Sponsored article: Now the UK is returning towards a new "normal" post-pandemic, businesses are preparing for offices, schools and other large-volume locations to welcome back larger numbers of staff, students and customers. Naturally, there will be an increase in footfall in places such as canteens.
The market expects consumers to want to continue to keep contact to a minimum where possible. This, combined with staffing shortages following an extended period of industry uncertainty, could create a challenge for caterers. UK start-up Autocanteen believes that it can help and has designed a solution using the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud-based technology.
In March 2020, Autocanteen launched an AI-powered self-checkout. Implementing a complete hardware and software solution, customers pay for their meals, including plated-up food, without any human interaction, freeing up time for catering staff to focus on customer satisfaction and support. Computer vision and machine-learning technologies remove the need for unnecessary packaging and barcodes. The timing of the launch also provided a further benefit of allowing caterers to offer reduced contact and social distancing.
The self-checkout solution is suitable for applications such as business and industry (B&I), education, defence, sports and leisure and healthcare – anywhere where there is a high volume of people that need to be served in a relatively short space of time.
During successful pilots with leading contract catering companies – members of the Fortune 500 list –Autocanteen installed terminals in the company canteens. The trials quickly saw hundreds of thousands of pounds processed through the machines within a few months and an average transaction taking less than 10 seconds.
In addition to this, the system demonstrated a 97% accuracy rate on orders, a rate that continues to improve because of the self-learning element of the software. All the terminals act as one organism, sharing learned product knowledge in the cloud.
Implementing this type of solution brings benefits for both the end-user and catering firms themselves. Short transaction times of just 10 seconds reduce queues and means less food is wasted. Higher checkout throughput brings financial benefits of more revenue, much needed after many months of limited activity.
The ability to implement a self-service approach for customers, similar to the supermarket model, helps reduce contact as we go through this period of adjustment post-Covid. It also empowers staff to support their customers by providing advice, recommendations and freeing up their time that might otherwise be spent on monotonous "scan and key-in" routines. In a school trial setting, informal feedback from participants shared that staff were able to spend more time helping children make healthy eating choices.
The drive to digitalisation has been increasing over the last few years, however, the pandemic really accelerated this demand. When bidding for new contracts, catering firms that innovate and use the power of digital technology such as AI can benefit from a competitive advantage of differentiation and improved user experience.
There is an element of uncertainty as to how many days staff will be returning to the office, so a self-service terminal used in conjunction with a "regular" till point adds a level of staffing flexibility and will enable caterers to plan for the future trends in working patterns.
As companies continue to train and recruit new members of staff to replace those that were lost due to furlough or Brexit, self-service terminals allow catering firms to meet customer demand during this period.
For the installation and maintenance of this innovative AI self-checkout solution, Autocanteen has a partnership with Cennox, a leading global implementation provider. The partnership provides the support of hundreds of field engineers to roll-out this self-checkout solution to the UK retail and hospitality sector. Cennox and Autocanteen are both driven to bring high-tech solutions to the market, and this partnership originates from this shared passion that binds both companies.
Self-learning technology is extremely powerful and is constantly evolving. Autocanteen uses computer vision and deep learning algorithms for the identification of products rather than relying on barcodes. The blazing-fast neural network, which can be educated in a short space of time, will grasp and identify hot meals, drinks or snacks in a fraction of a second.
As well as accurate product recognition, the Autocanteen Point of Sale solution has been fully certified by the National Measurement and Regulation Office for Weigh & Pay transactions.
To find out more about the solution visit, www.autocanteen.com.