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Enabling Technology in Our Kitchens

Insights & Innovation |  11.12.2019

We’ve explored how data and tech are transforming the food industry and how consumer needs inform technology — but what does it look like when technology extends behind the kitchen doors? For our employees, it’s streamlined operations across our locations that are delivered by Aramark’s proprietary, cloud-based, mobile solution: our Enable app.

Our kitchens can say goodbye to many paper forms and time-consuming manual procedures in favor of an intuitive, custom-built platform designed specifically for their needs. Raju Sankuratri, Associate Vice President of Technology, and Steve Skarupa, Product Manager, walk us through the Enable development journey.

From Paper to Performance

The platform serves as a guide to kitchen success, including production prep, setup, recipes, temperature check, service results and more. As soon as an employee walks into work for the day, he or she opens the Enable app on the tablet. The screen suggests the optimal station setup for that day’s recipes. It also allows employees to capture and store images of each station, to increase setup consistency. As the employee begins preparation, Enable displays a recipe alongside the number of portions the kitchen will need to prepare that day based on automated forecasts. After the employee has prepared the food according to the instructions, he or she can add shared notes in the app’s journal function.

Additional features have eliminated tedious manual processes, freeing employees’ time to focus on the customer experience. Before the app, for example, employees took temperatures of each item once every two hours and recorded the temperatures on paper. Enable integrates with Bluetooth thermometers for improved accuracy and seamless quality control— so employees have more time for elements like presentation. If the digital thermometer doesn’t read at the desired temperature, Enable provides intelligent recommendations on how to best temperature-adjust that food item.

The product team measures success partly through the platform’s adoption rate, and the numbers speak for themselves: across an ever-increasing number of client sites, associates use the app every day. Users have recorded nearly 1.6 million temperatures to date, and the app has reduced the time burden of client sites’ frontline tasks by an average of 1,000 hours.

As the culinary team plans the day's work, the Enable app is a handy companion every step of the way, from prep guidance to end-of-service checklists to note-taking.

Part of the app’s success is attributed to the fact that Enable product team continuously engages their frontline colleagues in the design and development process. Employee interviews uncovered pain points and areas of opportunities in the daily food preparation process. Formerly, the kitchen team would begin work each day with printed paper worksheets with the day’s recipes and portion quantity information. Food managers were responsible for hand-recording food production numbers on these sheets; however, because the process disrupted their workflow, the staff often waited until the end of the day. That left the papers often incomplete or illegible after moving around a kitchen environment. Those papers were collected at the end of the day or week for data entry into a web application. Enable, on the other hand, fits seamlessly into the daily process — a user need only tap a button to record their information. The results? More accurate, real-time data — and 450,000 sheets of paper saved to date.

Because kitchen data is far more accurate with Enable than when completed from memory, plans for ordering ingredients have improved — thereby limiting food waste and spoilage. With smarter data stored on the platform, kitchens can optimize inventory and make better purchasing decisions. Further, when employees prepare recipes according to step-by-step instructions on the app, the end product is better standardized in quality. “With Enable, it’s about better all around operations, food waste reduction, cost reduction, and more consistency in the food,” Skarupa notes.

"We’re able to talk to our guests and get much more feedback from them, so we can deliver the experience they want."
- Food Manager, New Jersey 

The team sees the benefits of Enable ranging from improved operational efficiency and engagement to improved food safety, and a better food product for the consumer. Frontline employees agree. “Our guests are impressed when they see a chef using a tablet behind the scenes, says a food manager in Texas. “We’re more efficient and consistent, but we also have more pride in our operations.” A manager in New Jersey reports that he spends less time behind a computer doing manual data entry, that he can instead spend interacting with customers. “We’re able to talk to our guests and get much more feedback from them, so we can deliver the experience they want.”

From Concept to Product: The Enable Development Journey

What differentiates Enable from other software solutions in a kitchen? “This is a complete custom development effort,” Skarupa says. The Enable journey exemplifies Aramark’s focus on innovating new digital capabilities, to enhance operations, the consumer experience and client insights. 

The Enable platform provides streamlined, intuitive graphics with bold instructions so employees can get the information they need at a glance.

“With Enable, we’re building exactly what employees want, when they want it, and when they need it.” The team behind Enable continuously develops and deploys new features according to real-time feedback. At the project’s inception, the development team went into the field to interview employees and observe processes. “We don’t start developing a feature until we believe it is what our associates need. We design prototypes, go back out to the field, have them test it, and only then do we come back and start development of the product,” says Sankuratri. Our in-house capabilities and partners allow us to develop and deploy advanced technologies much faster to support our businesses. Upon request from teams in the field, the product team has integrated additional features, from recipe scaling tools to cooking demonstration videos. The user-centric design and development process has paid off in terms of adoption and ease of use. In fact, the team dropped one feature after learning associates weren’t using it: in-app training on how to use Enable itself. “Employees said, Enable works, it’s so easy. I didn’t even need more in-app training,’” Skarupa said.

In a short period of time, Enable has been deployed at more than 450 locations with another 200 planned in the next six months. As the team manages Enable’s performance, they’re dedicated to the tool’s continued success among the associates it serves. “We have seen outstanding adoption with tremendous use on a daily basis,” he said. Skarupa says, “We’re constantly refining, enhancing, adding more features, and analyzing existing usage.”

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