Article by British Institute of Facilities Management

‘Dark as dishwater’ instant coffee and frustratingly common machine breakdowns are becoming a thing of the past, says David Wilson 
Modern automatic vending machines offer an incredible array of innovative, efficient and profitable catering answers for your business.

Every workplace is unique and there is rarely anyone on site that understands this better than an FM. The growing number of companies choosing to invest in vending machines is testament to a decade of unparallelled progress in the industry, which now promises greater return on investment (ROI) than ever and transformative day-to-day cost and time savings for FMs.

1. Selecting your vending machine

You can choose from free-standing units to smaller table-top machines perfect for smaller kitchens, and those equipped with bidirectional monitoring plus cashless payment systems.

The first consideration should always be: ‘what do you need the machine to do?’ Will it stand alongside your existing catering and kitchen offers, or is it perhaps predominately to feed staff working unsociable hours? Do you require it to serve snacks or full meals; hot or cold meals, food and drink?

An industry-wide trend has seen operators and manufacturers shift the emphasis of machine design to product quality and user experience rather than pure speed of service and convenience. There is still a knowledge gap among FMs regarding the possibilities of these machines, so educate yourself about what is available.

2. Provide quality produce 

Technological advancements in the vending industry balanced against the recession-induced need for maximised ROI have resulted in the world’s most cost-efficient machines.

The modern customer will go out of their way to purchase barista-style full-bean coffee or leaf tea ahead of the cheap instant version. Therefore, while more expensive to buy than their predecessors, vending machines equipped with quality produce which charge higher retail prices for food items have proved to be far more cost-efficient in both the short and long term.

3. Seasonal choices

Another common consideration is whether the food items your machines will stock are to be subsidised by your firm or whether you wish the machines to be programmed to offer meal deals or even linked to a user-database to reward loyalty.

Ensure that your operator is flexible so that your machines are able to maximise ROI all year round. For example, staff are more likely to purchase bottles of water than hot drinks in summer.

4. Automated monitoring 

Using an ‘Always-On’ connection rather than the old ‘dial-up’ system means that sudden changes in demand can be quickly identified and accounted for, with additional capabilities for automatic stock ordering.

The new use of bidirectional monitoring also allows you and the machine operator live access to each machine’s stock level and purchase records while also allowing you to remotely reconfigure ingredient settings.

In this era of increasingly reliable technology, the sight of an ‘out of order’ sign will turn many customers away for good. To reduce machine downtime periods new back-end telemetry technology has enabled real-life maintenance reports and even remote bug-fixing. The next generation of machines is designed to contain simple and effective spring mechanisms and no potentially faulty motors.

As the FM, you should only ever have one point of contact with your operator and the member of staff who arrives to clean and restock the machine should be the only person you see. If the machine reports a rare serious fault, some operators now offer a ‘box pool’ system, whereby, rather than fixing the machine on site, a new machine is wheeled in as a replacement as the other is taken for repair.

5. Food on the move 

It’s vital to position a vending machine correctly. The last thing you want to do is create a blockage in a key access corridor, but it is imperative to maximise visibility of the machine. Likewise, although the operating noise of machines has been reduced significantly, you may wish not to place the machine in a quiet office.

Considerations such as elevator weight restrictions and door accesses have proved an obstacle to vending machine delivery on occasion, so make sure you take everything into account.

6. What do your staff need?

If your staff are using a machine on the fifth floor they will expect the same system as the first floor. By linking machines together through back-end telemetry, you can increase customer satisfaction and again increase ROI. The use of user-database information that enables your machines to remember the purchase history of a user and also recognise them by facial data can both enhance the customer experience and speed the transaction.

This could be made even faster with the introduction of a cashless payment system.

Click here to see the article on FM World