Here’s How the Food Industry is Using Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR), or the experience of a real-world environment using video, audio, and GPS location enhancements on electronic devices, has opened up a world of opportunities, especially in the field of marketing. The food industry is one such industry where AR can be used in endless ways. As a business that relies quite a bit on appearance and presentation, augmented reality can enhance a customer’s overall experience with restaurants, food delivery apps, groceries, and other food-related services.

Yesterday, Seamless informed me via an email that it’s introducing map-based searches for food pickup. I can now open Seamless when I’m on the go, select a restaurant displayed on the map based on my location, order my food, and simply pick it up as I walk by.

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I can also view ratings and other information like the price-range, the distance, and the time the restaurant will likely take to get my food ready.

The positives? After having already heavily contributed to food-delivery culture in New York City, Seamless is now making it easier and quicker to pick up food when we’re on the go in the city. (Waiting too long for food delivery or time-consuming, cumbersome cooking are the reasons I make it just in the nick of time to too many appointments, so this is a welcome move for me.) Seamless already had a pickup option, but adding a touch of augmented reality by using a map-based search will make it more easy, interactive, and could hopefully result in more time saved. I no longer need to go out of my way to pick up lunch— I can just use the map to check which restaurant is on the route I’ll be taking.

But here are the negatives. Firstly, I wonder what took Seamless so long to jump onto the AR bandwagon. Yelp did it in 2009 with its Monocle; it accesses your phone’s camera, and as you move with your camera on, it displays which restaurants and bars are in your vicinity, as well as their user ratings, contact information, and exact location.

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Yelp’s Monocle (as seen from my bedroom window)

Secondly, and this really bugs me, is the fact that this feature is not available on the mobile app! It’s understandable that Seamless has just rolled out this feature, but if they really want users to use it, they should enable it on the mobile app as well. I’m such more likely to order using the Seamless app when I’m on the move than I am to use the mobile website to order. And given that Seamless’ commerce works on a completely digitalized model, I really don’t understand why they didn’t introduce it to the app to begin with.

While I don’t think that Seamless’ map is innovative (it’s following the same map-based format as Google Maps and Yelp), I do think that augmented reality in the F&B industry can be used creatively in marketing strategies. KFC India created the Wow@25 mobile app to dispel the belief that KFC’s food is not affordable. It enables users to scan their Indian currency notes, after which all of the user’s buying options at KFC then appear on the note itself. McDonald’s TrackMyMacca mobile app in Australia lets users track ingredients in the McDonald’s meal they just bought, using GPS locations, image recognition software, and McDonald’s own supply chain information database. It then brings this data to life on the table itself.

So, is this trend here to stay? Augmented reality is fun, interactive, and keeps the consumers occupied while waiting for their food. It’s is not a new innovation— as I mentioned earlier, Yelp started using it in 2009. But going by the popularity that augmented reality game Pokemon Go recently witnessed worldwide, I think the AR realm definitely has scope for more growth, expansion, and creativity in the food business. Restaurants —especially fast food chains that aim to make their food accessible to the widest consumer base— should invest more in augmented reality technologies that will give them an edge over their competition.

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