In a staff restaurant, somewhere near here, 2025...
Wednesday morning 8.30am, April 30th. Weather: cloudy and cold.
Executive chef Maria checks the app for meals ordered, showing how many guests are due to eat lunch today, and who has pre-ordered the hot main dishes, salads and take-away. Her team uses this to plan the production for the day, combined with historical data showing them how much food from the salad bar and deli station is normally eaten on a cloudy day in April, the average portion size per guest, and how much is normally wasted.
The hot main dishes are designed to provide 30% of the daily recommended volumes of all key nutrients, and stay within the suggested carbon, water and resource-use budget per person. They do not always stick to these limits, because not all guests like the same thing, and Maria and her team have license to create their own menu plans as long as it keeps them within reasonable boundaries. They also receive the allergy and nutritional alerts for the guests who have specific dietary requirements, so they can ensure every guest has a good lunch option.
By developing food concepts that are optimised for health and environment, and by minimising waste, Maria has been able to cut environmental impacts by 40% in the last 2 years, without having to make drastic changes to the way she runs the kitchen. She just has better information, especially now that guests can provide accurate feedback on the lunch app. Back in the old days, she never really knew which dishes were most popular, so there was always a bit of guesswork as to whether new dishes would fly or not. Maria can now predict pretty accurately which new ideas will be popular by looking at the guest satisfaction history. If you're going to try a new dish, fail early and fail gently.
She is even trialing RoboSoup, the first product designed for large scale catering that takes data from their stock control and creates soup recipes that will use up any food at risk of going out of date. The soups are pretty good too, and this could be extended to the salad bar and delis soon, as well as providing take-away suggestions. The "food to go" trend of 2018 & 2019 didn't really last, but the remnants of it can be seen in the small but regular number of guests who want their lunch to take-away.
Wednesday morning 9.30am
In his office, Ed receives an alert on the lunch app asking him if he would like to choose his lunch for tomorrow. He doesn't always choose, because sometimes he needs to be elsewhere at short notice, but because he has joined the company's Green & Mean cycling group, he has signed up to get recommendations for the healthiest and most "planet smart" choices for each day. To be honest, Ed's not too sure what all the different metrics are, but the gizmo that shows him which dishes will give him the biggest nutrient bang for its environmental buck does the job.
Ed gets an alert showing 30 seconds queuing time for lunch, so head downstairs to the restaurant, scans his smart phone and collects his lunch. After lunch he swipes right for sweet potato curry, but swipes left for the root vegetable panna cotta, and later that afternoon Maria gets all of the feedback on her phone for that day's service. She was right, the root vegetable panna cotta was a step too far.
Maria needs to make her food order for next week and she still does most of her ordering for twice weekly deliveries. The really fresh produce from the indoor salad gardens can be delivered every day by drone, but she only uses this for the ultra perishable produce and at certain times of year when the ordering system shows her it will be a better choice. For everything else she gets recommendations based on previous orders, the time of year, best price options, and which producers have updated their sustainability data. Apparently this is all provided on the Foodchain, which is a bit like the system they used for bitcoin before the crash but it deals with food not money. Maria doesn't really care how it works as long as it helps her make good ordering decisions from the different suppliers she uses. She knows really talented chefs who still have their recipes in their heads so that they can be creative every day, but even they use the Foodchain for making purchasing decisions because it can all be done on their smart phones.
Because it is also the end of the month, she gets her sustainability report for the food they have bought, sold, and wasted for April. Good news; she is 8% better than March for total procurement, with 99.2% production effectiveness. Guest food waste is down to 10g per guest as well. Her food costs are within budget, the nutritional quality of food served in April is within the recommended ranges, and they only used 80% of their carbon, water and resource budget. Still, she's done her six hour day, so anything else can wait until tomorrow.
In an office in oslo, 5th january 2018...
You may not think all of the things that happened above are (a) on the cards or (b) will be used by everyone, but the reality is that by combining better information with human talent, we can create a food service industry that is a cause for good in ways that are measurable and evidence-based. And in fact the underlying technology for a lot of the things I described are in some shape or form already here, or at least not that far away. The question is, how far down the road are you and how far do you want to go? I know caterers who get accurate daily waste reports, who know the environmental impacts of their recipes (at least on some metrics), and most caterers have "level 1" nutritional and allergy data. Guest feedback systems exist, and we are learning more about communicating healthy and sustainable diets every day. Indoor food production systems are all the rage in the urban agriculture world and drone delivery is not that far away. Caterers can already get monthly and quarterly data showing their sustainability across multiple dimensions (clients of IntoFood can at any rate), and a "blockchain for food" has been successfully tested for food safety. The gaps are only really in some data areas, scale, and software integration. Seven years to get there, so who'd bet against it?
PS - with apologies to fans of root vegetables and panna cotta, and soup gurus the world over.
PPS - I checked, 30th April 2025 will be a Wednesday.