Robots are taking over the world, but not in the way you may think. If you take a look around, you’ll find drones flying in the sky, AI assistants reminding you of your next appointment, and someday we may even have self-driving cars. As for the food industry, the use of robots is nothing new. Farmers have adopted the use of robots for planting and harvesting crops. At the same time, food manufacturing plants have used robots for packaging and placing food into containers for decades. In recent years, robots have been taking over a new section of the food industry, the restaurant business.
How Robots Are Helping Battle COVID-19
Operators have experimented with the use of robots in the past and while robots have been seen as niche restaurant tech, owners are now seriously considering using them thanks to the coronavirus. Because the virus only spreads between humans, owners have realized that customers with health concerns prefer restaurants where the spread will be minimal. By automating or semi-automating restaurants, operators can attract customers in an already difficult time for the industry.
Pros & Cons Of Automation
The way technology is advancing and customers having more health and safety concerns, it seems like robots will inevitably become the standard tech in the restaurant business. But that’s far in the future. So the most pressing question restaurateurs are asking themselves is, “If robots are part of the future, should I automate my restaurant now?” The answer to this question is not the same for everyone. Some restaurants are in a prime position to automate, others might suffer from it, and a few are in the middle. To figure out if automation can either help or hurt your business, consider the following pros and cons.
Pros Of Automation
- Productivity Increase - Robots don’t take sick days, vacations, or breaks. They are more consistent and work faster than humans which means serving more customers during business hours. Plus, they won’t file lawsuits for injuries or other grievances.
- Smaller Payroll - You won’t need to hire employees for mundane tasks such as washing dishes or cleaning kitchen areas. Instead, your human employees can handle complex tasks such as customer service.
- Create An Experience - A robot in a restaurant, especially one that can be seen at the front of the house, is a novelty that customers, especially kids, will enjoy seeing. For family restaurants, consider using a serving robot with a kid-friendly design.
- Sanitation - As stated before, robots can’t spread viruses which will make your place of business more sanitary and customers will feel safer knowing that they can’t contract viruses from robots.
Cons Of Automation
- Ethical Considerations - It is widely debated whether robots should replace humans in the workplace. Some employers don’t feel comfortable doing it and some customers don’t feel comfortable supporting businesses that take jobs away from people. In an attempt to satisfy both sides of the argument, a few employers combine automation with human employers, known as semi-automation. They also replace jobs that would eliminate dangers and liabilities like janitorial work where employees can easily slip or fall while cleaning floors. This way, your employees won’t have to suffer injuries and you won’t have to pay insurance or get sued.
- Lack Of Creativity - Robots can accurately reproduce dishes but they cannot create them, which can lead to customers getting bored of the same dishes. As advanced as AI technology is, robots still don’t have the ability to create a new or unique dish.
- Note: Depending on your robot, it is possible to reprogram them to make new dishes.
- Cost - Let’s face it, robots are expensive. Flippy, the burger-flipping robot, costs around $30,000. On top of that, you have to add the price of maintenance, warranties, and you might have to hire a service technician with a degree for repairs.
- Note: A robot in need of repairs means that your customers won’t be served and you’ll have to come up with a plan B. This can include a backup robot or training staff members to take over.
- Human Interaction - People will always prefer to interact with other humans. Some restaurant owners have opted out of automation because customers have become frustrated with interacting with robots. Think about it, when calling a customer service line, isn’t it easier to communicate with another person than an automated service?
- No Longer A Novelty - As time passes, customers will get accustomed to having robots in restaurants and will no longer be impressed with their presence.
The Future Can Wait
As AI technology advances and becomes more innovative, restaurant robots will become accessible and more affordable for the average restaurant owner. It’s not necessary to automate your business just yet, especially if you find it too costly. Remember, this technology is still new and many restaurants that already have robots are simply testing them out. At this time, it’s better to wait and see how robots perform in a restaurant environment and keep an eye out for any new information that comes along.