What does it mean for technology to be “disruptive”? You will see this term used to describe the invention of automobiles, computers, the internet and even the first iPhone. Disruptive technology is technology that changes the way people live their lives in a fundamental way. By nature it’s hard to predict when these breakthroughs will emerge or what they will be. One thing that has remained relatively consistent in the last 50 years is that technology is improving at an exponential rate, and does not look like it is slowing down in the near future.
Looking at the food service industry specifically, we have seen a shift from needing a physical copy of the menu, to having menus online, all the way to having interactive mobile apps that allow you to place your order and pay for it in a matter of seconds. Considering the changes we have seen in industry standards and the exponential growth of technology, it is a safe bet that the food service industry will be significantly different in 20 years.
Since 2012, investors across the globe have put over 2.5 billion dollars (USD) in to restaurant-tech start-up firms. The types of companies that are getting investments vary greatly, but they are all striving to change the standards within a rapidly changing industry. Everything from in-store phone charging stations to highly sophisticated inventory management platforms have gained traction in recent years. There are even companies that sell robotic salad makers that could replace employees and drastically reduce costs.
The next few decades will reveal the winners and losers of this competition to design the next truly disruptive product. The challenge for food service firms, technology firms and investors alike is recognizing what has the potential to fundamentally change the industry the most. Will the next generation grow up with robots preparing their food? Will they be able to order and pay for their food without lifting a single finger? Only time will tell.