5 February 2018 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a significant role in the future of catering, but not at the expense of human beings, according to consultants and experts from the catering and FM industry.
The panel of 20 experts spoke at a round table discussion, hosted by caterer Bartlett Mitchell, to debate the current recruitment challenges facing the industry and the potential impact of technology and artificial intelligence on the workforce.
The members agreed that although AI could be seen by some as a threat to lower-skilled jobs, it was actually a real opportunity to enhance existing services and enable companies to offer better salaries, and more tailored solutions for customers and clients.
All participants agreed that the service industry would never see a scenario where people would be completely replaced by machines. Instead, companies would look to use new technologies if commercially viable, but not at the expense of human interaction.
Wendy Bartlett, executive chairman, Bartlett Mitchell, said: "We are in the business offering people experiences. Of course, it's important to have amazing food, but service is vital - that makes the difference between success and failure. We see AI and technology as enhancing our service, not replacing people.
She added: "We target clients who like that personal touch so there will always be a need for people. We can see how technology and advanced computing has moved our industry on over the last decade, and we are sure to see more significant developments in the future.
"Amazon Go and similar initiatives are perhaps signs of things to come in some areas. Where appropriate, these sorts of developments will be fantastic, but they won't be relevant to everybody."
It was also agreed that companies would need to see strong business cases to support additional investment in new technologies.
Chris Stern, from Stern Consultancy, said: "Companies will have to be careful about where they want to invest. Technologies are moving so fast and it will take a brave business to invest in something without any long-term proof of success. What isn't in doubt is that businesses need to continue to invest to enable them to grow."
He added: "Technological advancement doesn't always have to be expensive, as we have seen with the basic evolution of payment systems e.g. cash to contactless, but any large-scale or costly and significant projects will need to have a strong story to convince people to take a chance on them."
The event was attended by catering and FM consultants, HR experts, FM directors, and Bartlett Mitchell senior management.
Other key areas of focus included how the industry is getting better at gathering data, but not following through with strategic analysis.
Simon Houston, sales director, Bartlett Mitchell said: "It was generally agreed that, whilst data capture is deemed important, catering businesses are not doing as much as the retail sector in this space. Companies are looking at how the transition can be made from data capture, to analysis, to conversion, and progressive businesses will utilise the data to help enhance the customer journey. However, the industry has some way to go."
The round table also discussed the perception of roles within hospitality and how companies can get better at engaging young people through digital channels and issues about lowering of margins and how large companies have driven down income, creating challenges to the ability to grow and invest.
The event took place at Trinity, Adam Byatt's Michelin-starred restaurant in Clapham. Byatt is chef consultant for Bartlett Mitchell.