Over the past few years, food service has become more and more automated. From “Flippy” the burgerbot to Starship Technologies’ delivery drone – more on him in a minute – restaurants have seen an unprecedented uptick in the use of robotic technology. Let’s take a look at some of today’s new bots on the block, and what they mean for tomorrow’s restaurant employees.
1. Delivery bots
Starship Technologies’ robots have been hitting the streets since last year – but they’re new to the states. Just a few weeks ago, they appeared in Redwood City, CA. These adorable, rolling robots navigate street traffic to deliver food right to your door. And they’re not the only ones – Yelp Eat24 and Marble have partnered up with a similar project. San Franciscans started spotting delivery drones from this new effort on April 17th, 2017. It may be time for your restaurant to start researching how you can integrate these exciting new services.
Some servers have expressed concern that robots will soon take over their jobs – but experts say that day is far away. Some restaurants, like Zume Pizza, know that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Although this Mountain View, CA, restaurant employs robots to do the dangerous, oven-side work of baking pizzas, they also invite employees to become shareholders. Their 30 employees get full benefits, and the company subsidizes their studies in coding, graphic design, and engineering.
This restaurant has been compared to a vending machine. Although the popular chain employs human chefs, it has eliminated the need for human interaction between diners and servers. Guests place their order via touchpad, wait while it gets prepared behind the scenes, and pick it up at a window before eating at a table. Introverts rejoice! There’s no need to speak with a server, busser, host, or cashier when you dig into an Eatsa pizza.
Who says a robot’s place is in the kitchen? Taco Bell’s new Tacobot has arguably traveled even further than Yelp’s delivery drone – it’s all the way in cyberspace! Watch out, office workers, now you can chat with the Tacobot directly through Slack. Ordering lunch is now as simple as OMG.
5. Momentum Machines
Momentum Machines is one of a few companies seeking to turn QSR kitchens over to robots – entirely. The star of their show is a burger-flipping robot that can cook 400 patties per hour. The efficiency is impressive, but some experts say that shouldn’t be the goal. Siddhartha Srinivasa, a professor at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, envisions a world where robots become the norm. As one Eater article quotes him: “It’s weird to say this, but when something becomes unsexy, it means that it works so well that you don’t have to think about it. You don’t stare at your dishwasher as it washes your dishes in fascination, because you know it’s gonna work every time… I want to get robots to that stage of reliability.”
Reliability doesn’t necessarily mean ubiquity. There are plenty of complex tasks a robot can perform better than a person, but experts are divided about what that means for the future of employment. “While robots excel at complex calculations and precise, repetitive tasks, they have difficulty doing some things that are easily mastered by small children – such as stacking blocks and sensing objects in space.” writes one Reuters reporter. “Sit-down restaurants have additional tasks that are hard to automate, including setting and clearing tables, refilling coffee cups and answering questions about what’s on the menu.”
Technology is the future of restaurants, and robots are no exception. While they may not replace human employees overnight, it looks like the Age of Restaurant Robots is already here.