Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed the way humans interact with automated machines, creating a simpatico relationship between the two. This newfound relationship is forging a new path in the restaurant industry, one that is already changing the industry itself.
One way it has changed is obvious—automating mundane, low-skilled processes. Consider what happened over the summer at a CaliBurger restaurant in Pasadena. There, a robot named Flippy cooked a hamburger almost by itself. A human placed the patty on the grill, but the machine did the rest. It monitored the internal temperature of the meat and even told its carbon-based counterpart when it was time to add a slice of cheese and when the cooking process was complete.
But, this development is about more than flipping burgers. Restaurateurs are using robots to do everything from tossing salad to making pizza in order to improve back-of-house efficiency.
Companies such as Chowbotics, Zume Pizza, and Eatsa already rely heavily on automated machinery to accomplish many of their day-to-day tasks in the kitchen, much to the dismay of restaurant workers worried about their job security.
“There are certain less-skilled tasks in the kitchen that have to be done to prep for service and that kind of repetitive prep work can be taken over by machines,” Karen Malody of Culinary Options, Oregon, told US Foods in an interview.
A report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that even if automated machines were added to every restaurant tomorrow, they would only automate less than 5 percent of current job duties already assigned to humans.
For restaurant owners, the reasoning to avoid fully automating your restaurant is simple: your customers still want that face-to-face interaction and it’s good for your brand.
Mike Shumsky, CEO of CiCi’s Pizza, told QSR that “part of the success of anyone in the hospitality industry is how well you treat and interact with other people.”
Another important aspect to remember is that maintaining a balance of face-to-face relationships with automation can be the difference between having control over your brand and losing it.
John Scardapane, owner of SaladWorks, put it this way: “If you want to maintain your culture and your vision of the company, you have to be out there with your employees—no one else can do it.”
Outside of the in-the-restaurant features that robots offer business owners, they are also creating a new way to market restaurants. Namely, by being the stars of marketing campaigns themselves.
For example, Chowbotics promotes its business by telling its customers to “meet Sally (the robot)” and see her in action. This makes a restaurant experience far more about the process and the product than the restaurant’s environment or traditional service staff.
For restaurateurs interested in adding robotics to their business model, one thing remains clear: automation may be the way of the future, but that future is still an uncertain dream. As technology develops, automation will ultimately find its way into every business. However, it will still be important to have humans working in those restaurants to ensure customers get the satisfactory service they want.