McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy’s. Most of us grew up eating these low cost, highly delicious munchies, but if you are like me you now resist taking a trip to the land of childhood nostalgia. I think I can speak for most when I say we are not avoiding fast food chains because of taste, we are avoiding them because of how unhealthy one meal is for your body, and because the cost of our favorite items such as the Big Mac, is approaching that of higher quality restaurants. It has been known that fast food sales have been struggling since a short surge during the 2007 recession. Last month, the industry suffered its worst performance since January 2014.
Fast food chains are trying to listen to their customers by providing healthy options, replacing artificial ingredients with more natural ingredients, and broadening menu offerings. McDonald’s announced today that it will replace its use of high fructose corn syrup in its buns with sugar, and are now rolling out chicken nuggets and certain breakfast items free of preservatives, amongst other ingredient swaps. If fast food chains continue to amend their classic menu items with ingredients that are not harmful to the body, people like myself will return to once again consume our childhood favorites. However, the ultimate challenge is providing higher quality ingredients, and along with the pressure to pay workers higher wages, will force these chains to raise prices of menu items. The number one reason fast food chains were popular in the 90’s was because they provided tasty food at fraction of the cost of going to a restaurant. Without being able to offer a dollar menu or value menu, fast food chains will not survive. So how can these chains offer better quality ingredients, pay their workers a fair wage, and reduce costs back to true fast food prices in order to survive? They will have to cut costs significantly, and that is where IoT technology can help.
Arby’s set the trend by identifying operational inefficiencies and taking action in 2013. Arby’s utilized Powerhouse Dynamics’ SiteSage platform to monitor and control HVAC units in over 1,000 restaurants to reduce the heavy HVAC costs that were draining their restaurants’ budgets. They were able to reduce energy costs by 15% in 2015, which paid for its investment within one year. Arby’s additionally begun assessing usage of all of their equipment, including fryers and refrigeration equipment, by adding sensors into their machinery. Not only will this data collection and analysis help reduce energy costs all around, but it will also allow them to monitor the quality of the food being cooked by ensuring the equipment maintains the right temperature and cooking time. For an industry that has been known for getting it entirely wrong too often, this utilization of data analytics will allow fast food restaurants to prepare the food right more consistently, and save significant energy waste along the way.
If most fast food chains want to follow suit but don’t know where to start, help is on the way! Last month, AT&T partnered with Squadle to provide connectivity for Squadle’s restaurant management solution. This solution will help restaurant owners monitor tasks, inventory, refrigerator and freezer temperatures, all powered by AT&T Control Center, its IoT platform. This will allow fast food restaurants to keep a closer tab on their operations, and discover ways to cut costs. By cutting costs, fast food restaurants can bring customers the value that they have always promised, while increasing food quality as necessary for a more health conscious generation. Who would have thought, an aging business can once again thrive by taking a closer look at operational efficiencies? Big Data strikes again.