Technology and innovation are nothing new in foodservice and have come more sharply into focus during the pandemic. It seems that restaurant robotics may be the next step.
The continuing labour shortage in the industry is pushing many operators to think outside the box when it comes to their operations. Restaurants are increasingly leaning on automation to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to pave the path forward.
A notable example in recent weeks was the video of a robot (named Janet, if you’re interested) serving customers’ breakfast at a Denny’s restaurant.
But Denny’s is far from the only restaurant experimenting with robotic technology.
In Chicago, 10 McDonald’s locations are using artificial intelligence software to take drive-through orders. U.S. burger chain White Castle intends to introduce Flippy, an aptly-named burger-grilling machine created by Miso Robotics in 10 additional sites after a successful trial last year. Hyundai Robotics has announced it is partnering with KFC to develop chicken-cooking robots.
Saladworks has launched a partnership with Chowbotics that is seeing a robot (named Sally, this time) prepare salad bowls inside various locations. Bear Robotics (Denny’s partner in deploying Janet) also has robotic waiters in place in some Chili’s locations in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Wild Wings has tested robotic chicken wing fryers through a pilot program with Miso Robotics, and 800 Degrees Pizza announced plans this summer to bring about 3,600 Piestro robotic pizzeria machines to market throughout the next five years.
It extends beyond front- and back-of-house restaurant robotics, too.
Grubhub has partnered with autonomous vehicle developer Yandex to roll out food-delivering robots across U.S. college campuses, Chick-fil-A piloted robot delivery earlier in 2021, and Domino’s has invested in autonomous pizza delivery cars.
So far, these restaurant robotics are being brought in to augment human staff and help cope with the staffing crisis, although it will be interesting to see how it develops as the months and years go by. There are lots of positives, even beyond boosting the bottom line. For example, when servers don’t have to take care of menial tasks, they can pay more attention to their guests and cover more tables.
“Whether you’re running a diner or curating elite culinary experiences, there’s so much hustle behind the scenes,” says the website of Bear Robotics. “This is not only costly but also puts barriers between your guests, servers and the moments that matter. By automating the extra work, it’s our promise that you’ll see lower turnover, fewer errors, better reviews, and return customers.”
It’s not just the labour difficulties causing this, though. Restaurant robotics were in development and existence for some time before the pandemic, and it’s fair to say they have as much to do with the fast-changing nature of the restaurant industry and changing consumer patterns as they do with hiring struggles.
All told, this looks like no flash-in-the-pan trend but a fundamental shift in occurrence.
A recent report from Lightspeed found that over half of operators plan to deploy automation tech in the next two or three years and 87 per cent of restaurant owners/operators believe that technology adoption has been critical for survival throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Automation is the future and while it’s still early days, restaurant robotics looks likely to be a significant facet of that.