Robots have come a long way since the ungainly Lost in Space robot, waving its arms and shouting, “Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!”
Why the Trend Toward Robotics?
Robots have arrived in the restaurant industry and are a welcome addition to teams of waitstaff, kitchen prep workers, sous chefs, and chefs. In this case, necessity was truly the mother of invention. Two economic factors are driving the anti-humanoid trend:
The first relevant economic data point is the specter of exponentially rising labor costs in a labor-intensive industry. The use of robots is one of the few ways restaurateurs can shave labor costs off of their shrinking bottom line. While the initial capital outlay for equipment is not insignificant, the returns are immediate, consistent, and long-running.
The second relevant macro-economic trend driving the change is the difficulty finding qualified workers due to record-low unemployment rates over the past two years. The tiny pool of available workers makes it tough for restaurant managers to fill critical positions quickly. The automation of those positions eradicates recruiting costs resulting from frequent turnover. Robots have no learning curve and require no training downtime. The machines are immediately productive members of the team, providing always consistent results, and you do not need to consider them when you are trying to sort out the newest tip-sharing federal regulations.
Where are the Robotics Ideas Coming From?
This blog has previously discussed technological developments like tableside ordering with payment kiosks and hand-held tablets that assist, and in some cases, have replaced waitstaff.
But, the real changes are in the kitchen where food is being prepared. Restaurant operators have borrowed ideas from the commercial food-manufacturing industry where robotic arms spread exactly the right amount of pizza sauce and ingredients over a crust and machines chop, dice, and shred making food prep an exact and fast-moving process. Couple a pizza-making machine with a robotic-arm burger flipper that turns the meat (or plant-based material) patty until it is cooked to perfection as monitored by automatic temperature probes, and your operation is on its way to a fully automated kitchen.
The Automation Juggernaut Hits the Streets
In Boston, Spyce, a fast-casual restaurant serving healthy veggie bowls, bills itself as “culinary excellence elevated by technology.” Spyce purports to have an almost fully-automated kitchen albeit one that is supported by some off-site prep workers. The automation is part of the restaurant’s branding.
Moreover, entrepreneurs have already begun to build entire concepts based on the use of robotics. For example, on the Berkley campus of the University of California, BBox is already robotically turning out coffee and pastries for students without a human in sight and in Brooklyn “sushi robots produce upward of 400 rolls per hour at Bigeye Sushi.”
Robots have also bellied up to the bar. For example, Smartender markets an automated drink prep machine that can make over 600 drinks at the push of a button. With robotic drink prep, there are no overly-generous bartenders fortifying drinks and slashing your profit margins by the customer. A drink preparation machine knows exactly the right amount of tequila that goes into a restaurant’s signature margarita. Also, once the machine has created the frozen concoction, it can maintain the drink at the optimum temperature that keeps the drinks flowing fast and furious to a crowded bar on a Saturday night.
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