Solving a Restaurant Problem With a Smart Thermometer

Bao Nguyen
Bao Nguyen | 3 minute read

Aside from being on the Losant team, I am a partner in a restaurant group called the Lang Thang Group.

In the restaurant industry, there are lots of moving pieces and people. Things move very fast. Any time a new system or process is incorporated, there is often resistance unless there is a direct benefit to the actual person who is doing the task. This is where the Internet of Things can really help solve some of the problems and headaches restaurant owners experience. If there is a way to collect data or improve process using sensors that don’t require an actual person to do something different, that is definitely a plus.

The Problem

One of the challenges that most restaurants face is having a consistent product. In our case, we serve a Vietnamese soup called Pho. If you are not familiar with cooking Pho, it is a temperamental broth that cooks over long periods of time. This broth needs to be simmer for hours, but it should never be at a rolling boil.  If the temperature is too low, the flavor is not fully extracted from the ingredients.

During each batch, we have to monitor when the broth reaches a certain temperature, and maintain that temperature for an extended amount of time. Currently, it is a manual process. Here are the steps that we have to do:

  1. Add all of the ingredients to the pot.
  2. Turn the pot on high.
  3. Set a timer to check when the pot is boiling.
  4. When the timer goes off, check the pot thermometer to see if it is at the right temperature. If it is not at temperature yet, come back and check it again. If it has already boiled, then you just hope that it boiled since the timer went off.
  5. Once it’s at temperature, set the cook timer.
  6. Periodically check the temperature of the pot to see if it is in the appropriate range.
  7. When the timer goes off, come back and remove the pot of soup.

That process currently works, but there is a lot of room for error. People may forget to set the timers. They might not be able to hear the timer go off, or may be away from the kitchen. The timer could be broken. After the pot has reached the initial temperature, there can be other issues. The temperature can fluctuate without anyone knowing.

The Solution

Off-the-shelf IoT solutions to many problems may be available, however they are often cost-prohibitive and difficult to procure and implement - especially for small business owners and restaurants. Ideally, you could use a programmable steam kettle cooker to solve this, but that would require a large investment and (as of the date of this article) they are not very common. The other solution is to use a smart thermometer that can send temperature-based notifications and log cook times.

The new process with the smart thermometer could be the following:

  1. Add all of the ingredients to the pot.
  2. Turn the pot on high.
  3. Put thermometer in pot.
  4. (Automated) - Thermometer will start the timer when the pot has reached the right temperature.
  5. (Automated) - Thermometer will notify you when the broth is out of the appropriate range.
  6. (Automated) - Thermometer will notify you when the pot is done cooking.

With a smart thermometer, there is far less human interaction in the process, which will lead to less human error and fewer distractions. Our employees will not be interrupted while doing other tasks to check the pot. Less interruptions = more productivity.

In addition to being more efficient and accurate, there are other benefits to using a smart thermometer. By using a smart thermometer, you can also store the temperature data over time. That data can be used for the following purposes:

  1. Monitor how many batches we cooked over time.
  2. Troubleshoot bad batches by looking at cooking temperatures and durations.
  3. Remote monitor cooking.
  4. Provide data to troubleshoot equipment defects.

What's Next?

All of this sounds nice in theory, right? In the next post, I will put this to the test using Losant and a D.I.Y. smart thermometer with the following inexpensive hardware:

  • K Type 20cm Probe Thermocouple High Temperature Sensor
  • MAX6675 Type K Thermocouple Temperature Sensor Module
  • ESP8266 NodeMCU
  • A few wires
  • An enclosure

Here’s a sneak preview of what I’ve been working on.  The video shows the D.I.Y. smart thermometer sending its temperature readings to the Losant platform.