Five Questions with Hotel Tech Leader Lee Pillsbury

You’ve always been a believer in hotels leaning on technology. How do you think the pandemic has affected this? How should hotels balance innovating with tightening the purse strings?

LP: The pandemic has accelerated consumers’ acceptance of technology replacing some elements of human interaction, due to health and safety concerns. The importance of those concerns will mitigate over time—evidence suggests that it already has for many people—and hotels need to be cautious about “depersonalizing” the guest experience too far and/or overinvesting in technology solutions that guests may not value as highly going forward. The net of all this, the bottom line is as important or more important than near-term health issues.


Hospitality is a people business. How should hotels balance automation with the need to rely on people to deliver the best experience?

LP: Using capital to reduce or replace labor costs makes enormous sense for many reasons. It enables hotels to redirect precious labor resources to higher impact functions that create more value for the guest. It raises the value of labor and makes jobs more meaningful. And it improves working conditions and safety, by eliminating dangerous tasks.


What technology innovations have you seen in recent years to help increase efficiency in the hotel kitchen?

LP: Most obvious has been in the packaging, distribution and preparation processes of food products. Global distribution of perishable products has come a huge way. In the kitchen itself, sous vide technology has matured. What is most interesting however is the emerging impact of robotics. Made possible by the interface between AI and technology, robotics has been in widespread use in certain manufacturing applications for some time. Now thanks to companies like Dishcraft, we are seeing robotics enter the food service industry.


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What was the one thing about Dishcraft that spurred you to take a closer look at an investment? 

LP: I worked as a dishwasher when I started out in this business. I can tell you from firsthand experience it is not a job anyone would want to do. Working conditions are poor and accidents are common. It is exactly the kind of task that is ideally suited to a robot and something that as a society we should want done by robots. That fact alone spurred me to want to back Dishcraft, as it confronted the complexities of the challenge.


If there were a recipe for success with regard to introducing a technology product to the hotel market, what would some of the necessary ingredients be?

LP: There are a LOT of stakeholders here: owners, in some cases lenders, brands, management companies, hotel GMs and F&B directors—and not to be overlooked in this case—HR leaders. It is important to engage all of them in the sales process, and thus it is a complicated and long sales cycle. A company needs adequate sales and marketing resources and a fairly long horizon for this. It needs to find early adopters and influencers who can become proselytizers for the solution.

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