Online food ordering and delivery service provider Just Eat is examining how technology might change the sector in the not-too-distant future, and recently held a showcase event in London to look at some of the options.
Technology is key to how Just Eat operates: not only does it arrange delivery orders over the internet, it also harnesses data analytics to allow customers to order meals via an app for the Apple Watch -- one of the first official apps for the wearable device.
The whole takeaway sector contributed £4 billion to the UK economy in 2014 and is set to reach over £5bn this year as it continues to grow.
Just Eat, which connects customers and restaurants, says it has over 15 million customers and 60,000 restaurants signed up serving over 100 different types of food.
Indeed, 96 million orders were made using the Just Eat platform during 2015; 80 percent of orders are made on a mobile device and almost half of mobile orders are made via the Just Eat app, which offers customers a choice of more than 35,000 takeaway restaurants in the UK.
Just Eat wants to continue harnessing the power of technology to ensure it continues to grow its customer base and keeps them as satisfied as possible -- and not just with their food, but with the whole online ordering experience as the takeaway industry grows.
"Technology is at the heart of everything we do at Just Eat. We are always seeking ways to help our restaurant partners grow and ensure new and existing customers have a reliable, convenient and, increasingly, fun experience when they order from us," said David Buttress, chief executive of Just Eat, at the event.
The company's development team is working on projects involving augmented reality, virtual reality, chat bots, voice communication, and even robots as it looks towards meeting the demands of the customer of tomorrow. While some of this work is still experimental, other technologies are available for customers to use now or in coming months.
For example using the Amazon Echo voice-powered home assistant, Just Eat customers can reorder previous takeaway meals using just their voice -- the Just Eat 'skill' was built in as a launch skill when the device was released in the UK. By telling Alexa to reorder the previous meal, customers can get food delivered to their door without even needing to tap a mobile app.
Similar voice-activated ordering abilities are set to launch on the Xbox One games console in time for Christmas, followed by Apple TV in January 2017. The company is looking to "build the ordering experience into customers' everyday routines" and allow people to make orders without needing to stop what they're doing.
But what if a customer needs help with their order? Just Eat is developing chatbots to provide assistance. For example, the Customer Care Chatbot has been built using the Microsoft Bot Framework and sees Just Eat using artificial intelligence in order to ensure customers can get support and service around the clock, even if a human isn't available, or if the customer simply just doesn't want to speak to a human when ordering food.
However, even those who prefer to order their food without human contact need to interact with the delivery driver when they arrive. But that might not be the case in future because Just Eat is testing Starship Technologies autonomous delivery robot.
Just Eat began testing the little six-wheeled self-driving robot on the streets of Greenwich, London, in September this year, with plans to use it to deliver food in the near future. Currently, Starship robots are accompanied by a supervisor or pilot in order to help out if things go wrong, but Just Eat are one of a number of food delivery companies who see this technology as a way of boosting delivery numbers and improving customer satisfaction.
It's that satisfaction with a food order which sometimes means you'll stick to what you know. After all, why try something new when you know you like a certain dish from a certain restaurant? Then those times you do want to try something new, you only have the description on the menu to go on.
That's why in what Just Eat claims is a "first in food technology" the company is experimenting with augmented reality using Microsoft HoloLens in order to give customers a taste -- or at least a view -- of what their potential meal looks like. By using a HoloLens, the customer can see a virtual version of the menu's offerings on the table in front of them to help make a decision about what to eat.
Of course, HoloLens isn't widely used right now, but Just Eat is planning for a future where augmented reality and other pioneering technologies have become integrated into our lives as much as smartphones and apps are now.
"Working with leading partners, we are exploring the latest fields in technology to shape the future of how we interact with food. By harnessing these advanced technologies, Just Eat is driving innovation in our sector and working towards our ambition to create the world's greatest food community," said Fernando Fanton, chief product and technology officer at Just Eat.