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New Technology Helps Restaurants Run Smarter

There are plenty of smart restaurant operators out there, but the question Deepinder Singh asks is, are they running a smart restaurant?

More often than not that answer is no, especially when it comes to energy efficiency and the use of proactive, predictive technologies to improve it. As foodservice operations feel continuous pressure to focus on front-of-the-house solutions such as mobile pay or kiosk ordering, the back of the house and building systems themselves are left behind. And that’s exactly where Singh, the founder and CEO of Burnsville-based 75F, sees opportunity to eliminate inefficiencies and in turn help increase a restaurant’s bottom line.

Smart HVAC, smart lighting and energy management can all combine to create an intelligent restaurant, says Singh, whose Dynamic Airflow Balancing system uses predictive heating and cooling technology to manage airflow within the building and minimize energy usage.

The system is built on the concept of balancing airflow via sensors and dampers, not an expensive multi-zone HVAC system. The sensors, the cloud computers and dampers all work to keep air temperature and pressure equal throughout the restaurant as weather (or kitchen heat) changes throughout the day.

“What we do is we take the temperature in different parts of the building and we load it to the servers and we create a thermal model of the building,” Singh explains. “Then we look at the forecast weather and we predict what the temperature is going to be in here.”

By predicting the thermal loads throughout the building via cloud computing, the system can regulate temperatures in the kitchen or dining area before they spike, pulling in fresh air for free cooling and resulting in significant cost savings. Singh says customers are saving an average of 35 percent in energy costs and the system pays for itself in about three years. 75F also offers lighting management, and all its systems can be monitored and controlled online.

75F’s predictive heating and cooling system has a central control unit that connects with cloud computing, smart dampers, a wall room module and remote sensors to balance airflow and regulate temperature. 

“It’s very fundamental to how we take an internet of things approach,” says Singh of the online and remote management capabilities of the Facilisight tool. “That’s where the future is, for sure.”

Singh first got the idea for 75F from his then 1-year-old daughter, who would wake up crying at night. The reason? The temperature in her room was dropping some 10 degrees when all the doors were closed at night because the thermostat was in the master bedroom, which better retained heat. The computer science engineer solved the issue with the collection of sensors and small-format dampers that he’s now adapted to restaurants; he quit his telecom-engineering job to launch 75F in 2012.

Beyond saving money, guest comfort is another reason Singh believes restaurant owners should consider HVAC automation. 

“Our solutions are also specifically for owners who believe a lot in the guest experience,” he says. “Temperatures and odors can totally ruin the experience.” 

In restaurant kitchens where variable amounts of air are being pulled in and out, odors from trash can waft out into dining areas while temperature imbalances can make some seating areas unbearable.

“As the industry gets more competitive, these things are going to make some restaurants stand out over others,” says Singh. “It’s a question of do the guests enjoy a consistent experience.”

Higher expectations for that restaurant experience, combined with labor costs and innovation in equipment and kitchen design, are driving a shift in how operators are thinking about their business, says Jason Cocco, VP of business and product development for Mendota Heights-based Restaurant Technologies Inc. Particularly as the minimum wage rises, those in foodservice are looking for options to automate while also maximizing the human talent they have.

“That whole labor retention part is really a concern,” says Cocco. “There are some jobs in the back of the house that employees hate to do, so if a technology like our automated oil management system can save time and actually perform more efficiently, that’s where owners should look first.”

“There are some jobs in the back of the house that employees hate to do,” says Restaurant Technologies’ Jason Cocco, such as changing and disposing of fryer oil, which the company’s oil management system takes care of.

Restaurant Technologies’ oil management solution provides a turnkey system that takes care of oil delivery, storage, handling and disposal. Employees love it, Cocco says, because it’s safer and they do not have to change and haul away buckets of dirty oil.

And, he adds, while oil is typically one of the highest commodity costs for owners, restaurants using this system save about 15 percent on total oil costs.

“Technology is really taking us into an era where we will be able to automate these little, mundane tasks and chefs will be able to focus on the creativity and quality of their food instead,” notes Robert Light, research lead at G2 Crowd, a business software review platform. 

“Time-saving aspects of these technologies are definitely the main benefit, but like many businesses, working with cutting edge technology is a big draw,” he continues. “If the menial tasks of your kitchen employees are significantly cut down, they are going to have more time to do what they enjoy and that is cooking great food.”

However, Light cautions that user adoption should be the main concern when introducing new technologies. 

“Any time you try to disrupt an industry that has done things the same way for a long time, it can be difficult to convince the users that these new technologies will actually benefit them,” explains Light. “Cooking is a creative outlet and it is definitely not easy to convince an artist to change their processes, so proper training and proving the benefit is going to be crucial for restaurant owners.” 

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