Well before guests began wearing technology on their wrist as fashion, advancements in design and engineering spurred innovation in the attractions industry. Technology helped facilities manage and run more efficiently. Now, technology has dialed down into the nuts and bolts of our food and beverage (F&B) delivery systems.
“Speed of service is top of mind,” says Siobhan Wright, culinary operations corporate director for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Wright and other F&B executives share how their companies leverage technology in ordering, food preparation, and delivery to capture guests and increase profits. “Ultimately, the quicker you serve your guests, the quicker you can get them back out enjoying your park or family entertainment destination,” says Wright.
Self-order kiosks are but one techno-trend that borrows from real-world consumer experiences at major quick-service food outlets.
“Guests are looking for the convenience factor,” Wright says.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Merritt Island, Florida, introduced cashless, self-service kiosks designed by Titbit at its Orbit Cafe a few years ago and has found the kiosks so popular, the attraction expanded their use. The new Red Rock Grill and the Rocket Garden Cafe now use the touch panels, says Sue Fullington, director of food and beverage at KSCVC. “In this increasingly digital world, we are finding that the process is very simple and actually fun for our guests.”
Each kiosk offers users four different languages to choose from when placing orders. “With the large number of international visitors we welcome here daily, [it] really serves to make them feel more welcome,” Fullington says.
Another self-ordering benefit to attractions’ bottom line is larger orders. “It’s a great way to add capacity without the labor of cashiers,” says Wright, “But be sure the kitchen has the capacity to handle increased volume.”
At KSCVC, Fullington confirms that the kitchen can easily add or delete a menu item from the kiosk using the Titbit software if inventory inside the kitchen is running low.
Wright advises those adopting food service technology to simplify the order flow within the screens and still offer the old-fashioned way of ordering.
“Make sure you know your guest,” cautions Wright. “Some people still want to walk up to the counter and order.”
People are using mobile apps to order food from their favorite restaurant and having it delivered with services, including Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Amazon. The same is true at theme parks.
Last fall, Universal Orlando Resort ventured into mobile ordering with the Mobile Express Pick Up feature added to The Official Universal Orlando Resort App. What started off as only being in a few venues has quickly expanded to nearly every quick-service location across Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
“Guest feedback has been great, and if this service means that they’ll be able to spend less time worrying about planning out meals and more time enjoying vacation time with family and friends, then we will continue to move forward with this new feature,” says a Universal’s food and beverage team spokesman.
Traditionally, wherever mobile ordering is implemented, guests first need to know about the capability of the app and must download it, before setting up a profile and linking a form of payment, like a credit or debit card.
At Universal, visitors may peruse menu items while waiting in line for select attractions with loose-article policies that permit smart phones, while waiting for shows to begin, or while taking a break on a park bench. Complimentary in-park Wi-Fi allows guests to connect from public spaces.
While using the Mobile Express Pick Up feature, visitors can see illustrations of menu items, add side items likes salads or French fries, and even include desserts.
Beverage Refills Embrace AR and RFID
Technology is also moving beverage dispensing refill programs forward. For instance, Whirley-DrinkWorks! has added two new tech-based offerings: a refillable beverage cup that interfaces with augmented reality (AR), and integration of radio-frequency identification (RFID) with a specialty coffee machine, which moves specialty coffee drink refills into the self-serve arena, too.
An AR beverage cup includes an embedded image that when scanned using the Whirley AR app, triggers video content to launch on the user’s smartphone. The attraction controls the programming, which can run the gamut from “providing learning experiences, special offers, or to keep guests engaged while waiting in line,” says Alec Conarro, Whirley’s amusement park sales manager.
ValidFill, a sister company to Whirley, introduced its integration of RFID technology in conjunction with the Franke A600 specialty coffee machine for the purpose of controlled dispensing. Cups are tagged with an RFID sticker that is fully programmable to include the beverage container size, the number of purchased refills, and even guests’ names so they can be greeted in the messaging during the self-serve process. Labels can also be programmed for attractions that sell a single mug for unlimited beverage programs that include both cold and hot drinks.
Robots vs. People
Technology is now leveraged in the kitchen to balance training costs. For instance, Levy Restaurants, which has two locations at Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, has put robots in the kitchen at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.
Levy worked with Miso Robotics to develop Flippy, its robotic kitchen assistant that can man a four-station fryer and can cook up to 80 baskets of food in one hour. Levy estimates that each Flippy at Dodger Stadium pays for itself within a year.
The robot can use the grill or fryer, and robot backers say Flippy cooks perfectly and consistently every time. Miso also says the device is OSHA safety-compliant.
“Levy values the role our robotic kitchen assistants play in helping staff deliver faster, freshly prepared food,” says Melissa Burghardt, chief operating officer of Miso Robotics.
Yet robots are not so much about replacing people, but moving staff out of the kitchen and in front of the counter to interact with guests in more meaningful ways.