Managing the balance between man and machine is one of the key challenges to delivering great service in the global restaurant industry, the European Foodservice Summit audience was told this morning. “How technology and humans combine to deliver great service is one of the real hot topics at the moment,” said Dr Christopher Muller, of the University of Central Florida. Cesar Brea of US firm Marketspace pursued this theme in a presentation entitled “People versus Tchnology”. Brea said that too many companies had looked to replace humans with machines to the detriment of service, instead of best understanding how to use technology to enable staff to deliver the best possible customer experience. He argued that it was important for foodservice groups to establish “complimentarity” - to use technology to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of frontline staff. Wagamama, the international noodle chain, was used as an example of where technology in the form of handheld devices used by waiting staff has enhanced productivity and efficiency and driven sales through increased table turn, without “changing the customer experience in an uncomfortable way”. Brea also spoke of technology produced by ESP Systems that is currently being trialled in TGI Friday's in the US, which allows customers to summon a waiter using a touchpad at each table. The same technology can be used by waiters to communicate to front-desk staff when a table is vacant. In the trials with ESP, TGI Friday's has reported a 10% rise in table turns. There is another intelligent system, called “Interactive Bob”, which using cameras gathers data on customer traffic and predicts “what needs to be cooked an when”. Trials of this system have made drive-thrus 60 seconds faster and reduced food waste to almost zero. Food is sat on a grill for between three and five minutes rather than up to 20 minutes. “There must be a balance between human experience and interaction, and utilising machines,” said Brea. “It is one of the biggest opportunities to grow your business, and your profits.” The Foodservice Summit, held in Zurich, is organised jointly by FoodService Europe & Middle East magazine, the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute for economic and social studies and by the University of Central Florida.