There’s more to blockchain than bitcoin – and the applications in the hospitality sector are wide ranging. Daniel Gross, associate at law firm DWF’s German branch, explores how the promise of blockchain technology could be tranformative for the supply chain.

When you hear ‘blockchain’, you probably don’t think of the restaurant industry. But there’s more to blockchain than bitcoin – and the applications for blockchain in the hospitality sector are wide ranging.

Blockchain is essentially a clever combination of technologies which enables the creation of a permanent, tamper-proof record of events which is available to businesses and consumers alike, where necessary.

This kind of permanent record could be transformative when it comes to quality control and logistics in the hospitality sector. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the origins and sustainability of their food, and blockchain can provide an answer in the form of an immutable and comprehensive record of exactly where your food comes from. In a blockchain world, you might well find that every ingredient on your plate has its origins traced in a blockchain – the very definition of farm to fork.

A case in point: you have a craving for seafood, but want to make sure it’s fresh. A tiny sensor called an oracle, attached to a fish and linked directly to a blockchain, could assure you that the fish was caught sustainably and that it was properly refrigerated on its journey from sea to soup.

How does this work? The oracle could take the form of an RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag, and as a first step, it would be recorded that a given number of these tags were given to the operator of a fishing trawler. Once the trawler has reached the fishing-grounds, the RFID-tag can be activated by applying it to a fish which has just been caught. In this moment, the location data of the fishing trawler can be recorded from the trawler’s navigation system. This is a first step in recording that the fish comes from sustainable fishing-grounds.

The process of catching the fish and applying the RFID-tag to it can be recorded on camera, and this data can also be stored in the blockchain. The overall amount of fish that was caught is also recorded in the blockchain – clear proof that the fishing trawler did not exceed any fishing limitations, and that it adhered to sustainability measures.

Once the fishing-trawler enters the harbour and the fish is handed over to a logistics company, this entire process is also recorded by reading data from the RFID-badge. It can also tell you how and where the fish was shipped to, and even if people have attempted to tamper with the produce. Each subsequent step of the production process can be recorded and transferred in real time to the blockchain up until the point where the fish is sold and cooked in a restaurant.

This type of security has a range of positive knock-on effects which reach far beyond the consumer. Chefs and suppliers benefit from quality guarantees which do away with the need for costly and time-consuming random sampling, with all the errors it entails. Logistically, knowing where your produce is, when it’s likely to arrive, and the condition you’ll find it in is also great help with planning and inventory management, and allows a quick response in the event of any issues. In the unfortunate event that problems should arise, blockchain can help businesses with legal compliance and protection from claims, proving valid proof in the form of data which is universally available and cannot be tampered with.

Suppliers and operators still need to assess whether the application of blockchain is a sensible option for a given scenario. Blockchain projects are essentially mid- to large-sized IT-projects. The first barrier-to-entry is usually not of a technical nature; issues lie much more in the fact that multiple parties need to work together to establish a common infrastructure, or to assess whether they could become part of an already existing blockchain-infrastructure. Both processes have extensive legal implications.

However, the promise of blockchain for the hospitality industry is huge. The tech may be complicated, and some of the intricacies bring with them a range of legal implications – but with the right legal and technology partners, businesses can make sure they are ahead of the pack and maximising the benefits of blockchain.