By Diksha Pande
You’ve just got home after a hard day’s work, and cooking a meal is furthest from your mind. So, you do the next best thing: open up the food delivery app on your smartphone and place your order. Some thirty minutes later, the doorbell rings. Your order has arrived—hot and ready to eat!
Rise of online food delivery
By the time the pandemic struck in 2020, food delivery apps had already begun to hit their stride. The COVID-19 lockdowns accelerated this process. Forced to stay home, people started to order in more and more. Not only was this safer in an uncertain time, but as users discovered, online food delivery was also super-convenient.
Today, a smartphone user can simply open a food delivery app, tap out their order, and pay online. The restaurant kitchen prepares and packs the meal and a delivery partner carries it to the customer’s doorstep. With such a seamless experience at the customer’s end, it is easy to forget the technology that makes this possible.
But there is plenty going on behind the scenes.
Launch any food delivery app. The opening screen will usually display your recent orders and nudge you gently: ‘Want to repeat your last order?’ Suggestions like these are examples of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data analytics at work.
On some apps and websites, AI-powered chatbots respond to customer queries and offer timely updates. A virtual waiter who recommends what to order may not be far away.
For the time being, a food business can use the order history of customers to develop new menu items, highlight dishes they enjoy, and discontinue items that do not work. Food brands also gather insights from user reviews and customer support interactions to improve the customer experience.
Backend automation is a big part of this growth story. New-age robots can chop vegetables, grill burgers, de-pan bread and cake, and place food in boxes. Robots with AI technology can pick better ingredients, assess cooking methods, and even test new recipes. Meanwhile, Internet of Things (IoT) devices with sensors are being used to sort food, control temperature, and meet hygiene standards.
With automation comes greater consistency of food quality, taste, and texture. Consistency keeps customers happy and is good for business. Furthermore, when combined with inventory management software, automation reduces food waste and pilferage. Automated systems also reduce labour costs, speed up output, and take some of the pressure off human personnel.
Order on the move
Live-tracking of the delivery person’s route is just one fun feature. AI and ML are also instrumental in assessing the best-possible routes and delivery times based on the latest data on traffic, roadblocks, and weather conditions.
In some parts of the world, self-driving robots are already being used to deliver food. When the robot reaches the destination, the consumer uses a text link to collect their order. Also in the mix are delivery drones. These airborne devices could offer a quick delivery option in high-traffic areas within urban settings.
Third-party delivery services have been ruling the roost. But pushback is coming. To eliminate high third-party commissions and draw loyal customers, many restaurants are setting up their own delivery fleets and online order systems.
Food delivery is also moving beyond standard restaurant fare. Cloud kitchens are an interesting space. Since there is no physical restaurant to set up or maintain, these businesses can focus their money and attention on product development and the customer experience. With minimal COVID-19 restrictions and increase in vaccinations, we are also witnessing a renewed interest in offline eateries and the dining out space. Food subscriptions are another emerging sub-sector, well-suited to users who follow specialised diets. Customers can typically order keto, paleo, or vegan meals for the entire week or month through an app or website.
Smartphone apps are still the go-to option for food delivery. But IoT devices could become another key channel. Imagine ordering your morning smoothie through a smartwatch or getting Alexa to buy your groceries.
With technology doing the heavy lifting, the food delivery ecosystem is getting a complete revamp. Things are moving fast and food businesses need to be ready. Only those that embrace technology wholeheartedly will succeed in finding their audience and standing out in a high-competition sector.
(The author is Co-Founder, Samosa Party. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)