From streamlining the ordering process before a customer steps foot inside to tracking cooked food for safety and quality, the restaurant industry is rapidly embracing as much tech as developers can supply. Advancements in restaurant automation have made it to the mainstream this year, along with many other exciting efficiencies and safety upgrades taking place behind the scenes and in the back of the house. Here are just some of the hottest restaurant technology trends shaping 2018.

Automation: Ordering, Cooking, Packaging and More

The first McDonald’s self-serve ordering kiosk arrived in 2015, but 2018 marks a large-scale rollout of the technology to thousands of stores. This represents the first major fast food chain embracing the automation process, at least when it comes to taking orders. Other chains are experimenting with automated cooking equipment to minimize handling that could introduce bacteria and to prevent human mistakes like undercooking meat. Even in restaurants that pride themselves on needing a human touch in cooking the food, you can expect to soon notice the greater use of order and packaging automation equipment to save time and increase food safety.

Restaurant Efficiency: From Taking an Order to Dealing With Issues

Embracing digital order management platforms does more than just free up your staff from working cashier positions. It also gives a manager or owner a chance to connect directly with a customer when there’s a problem. Not only is restaurant efficiency increased at the beginning of the process, it’s easier than ever for a customer to register a complaint and reach out to someone who can help. Digital ordering software is rapidly integrating rating and comment systems, so managers find out immediately that there’s an issue rather than only noticing it after sales drop.

Food Safety: Tracking Food to Know When It’s Safe to Eat

Even if your employees wash their hands before handling food and use meat thermometers religiously, food can still pose a safety risk if it sits around too long after cooking. Fast food restaurants, in particular, are adding automated time and safety labeling equipment to mark each item as it’s packaged. There’s no confusion about how long that sandwich or chicken finger meal has been sitting under the heat lamps, therefore, greatly reducing the chances a risky food item will make its way to a customer’s mouth.