Self-driving cars, remote health monitoring, smart energy grids, and augmented reality glasses. These ideas can capture the imagination, but is there a place for this technology in established, everyday sectors like food service? According to Megan Porter, co-owner of a Boston Pizza franchise in Woodstock, Ontario — “absolutely.”

Porter’s Boston Pizza franchise worked with Rogers Communications and blueRover to install 40 different IoT sensors throughout their kitchen in everything from their refrigerators to their pizza ovens and deep fryers. The results speak for themselves. “Since we implemented the system we are able, on a daily basis, to identify and correct potential risks in our kitchen equipment, particularly our refrigerators,” says Porter. “We can already see the performance of our equipment improving.”

When a refrigerator temperature rises to an unsafe level, for example, the system identifies the food safety threat in real-time, and provides feedback that directs employees to solve the problem. The system also tracks and records when the problem is solved, providing behaviour analysis in a feedback loop that acts as an ongoing safety course. “The people who work for us have training in food safety and they have food handling certificates, but they really function on a day-to-day basis with a focus towards preparing food for guests,” says Porter. “This technology helps keep food safety top of mind in everything they do.”

Another advantage Porter noted is that sensors provide advance warning when equipment is not functioning optimally. This system not only prevents hidden safety issues from developing, but also provides cost savings in preventative maintenance. “When it comes to repairs and maintenance,” says Porter, “it always helps to be able to get in front of those problems rather than having to react to them.”

Seamless technology

Having the data from the kitchen sensors automatically tracked and analyzed in real time frees up a lot of time and energy for Porter and her employees, allowing them to focus on the many other daily aspects of their full-service restaurant. “Companies should be looking after what matters most for them,” says Ignacio Paz, General Manager, IoT, Rogers Communications. “Boston Pizza recognized that IoT technology could drive a solid business proposition, allowing them to immediately solve specific challenges within their business.”

That may be the real beauty of a properly implemented IoT system. In so many cases, the addition of a new technology to a business adds benefits, but at the cost of increasing operational complexity. This system, on the other hand, operates largely invisibly, reducing the overall complexity of work in the kitchen. “It’s not hard to train people to use this system,” says Porter. “And, it’s very easy to have it constantly be part of the conversation because it just lives around us.”

Just the beginning

The IoT system at the Boston Pizza Woodstock franchise is one of the original locations to invest in the system, but Megan anticipates it extending to many more franchises, if not all of them. She is constantly fielding calls from other franchise owners asking about the system. Megan is quick to tell them purchasing and adopting was not a hard decision for her. “It’s a simple system that is both very low maintenance and very high impact,” she says. “And, it was easy to see the benefits from the very beginning.”

So, yes, IoT is expanding and having a profound effect on the Canadian food industry. A major Canadian brand like Boston Pizza, with hundreds of locations across the country, is just getting started. “Boston Pizza’s investment in this technology is all about our commitment to our customers. It’s our commitment to raising the standard on food safety and providing the best possible experience when customers dine in our restaurants,” says Porter. “I can’t imagine that there is an industry that won’t be touched by the Internet of Things. There are literally billions of things out there that have important information to share with us. I’m really excited to see where the technology goes next.”