A couple of generations ago, the idea of having robots mixing our drinks, building our salads, and flipping our burgers seemed a given.
Although it may not have happened as fast as some predicted, this futuristic world is quickly becoming a reality in the 2020s, but with far less fanfare.
According to a report from the Association for Advancing Automation, businesses' purchases of robots to support their operations increased by 28 percent in 2021. If you dig deeper into these numbers, the food and consumer sector was the biggest portion of that growth, rising 29 percent last year.
So what’s behind this rapid rise in restaurant robots and kitchen automation, and what does this mean for the customer experience?
Here’s Burroughs’ take:
What exactly are “restaurant robots”?
First things, first: Restaurant robots look and act nothing like your mental image of Rosey the Robot, the maid from The Jetsons.
Instead, these restaurant robots look more like those automated arms and systems you may have seen on car assembly lines. In both cases, these robots are compact, stationary, and use advanced technology to assist with preparing, cooking, and handling key elements of a customer’s meal.
In some cases, these robots can work alongside other restaurant staff, whereas others can decide autonomously how and for how long to cook an entree. Some of the most widespread use cases of restaurant robots include Panda Express’ Panda Auto Wok (PAW), which is now in use at 120 of the chain's 2,316 restaurants, and Jack In The Box’s Flippy 2 and Sippy, aptly named to help with burger flipping and drink pouring.
What do restaurant robots mean for business operations?
So what’s driving the sudden rise in investment in restaurant robots?
There are many key drivers, but some of the most prominent include the ability to:
Mitigate the impact of a tight labor market.
According to a 2021 National Restaurant Association report, 3 out of 4 restaurants noted that recruiting and retaining employees “is the top challenge facing their business.”
Investments in restaurant robots help businesses focus employee attention on customer service, mitigate ongoing labor shortages, and lessen the total number of overall required staff per shift.
Reduce errors and mistakes.
Unlike humans, who tire after performing repetitive yet complex tasks for hours, robots can maintain their precision and speed.
In the case of Jack In The Box, their robots use advanced artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, and data analytics to predict upcoming food needs, work the grill safely, and operate drink stations.
Increase operational efficiency.
By design, robots minimize wasted movements, do not require breaks, and can efficiently handle tasks with multiple steps.
For example, Panda Express’ PAW automates parts of the wok-handling process, moving 25 percent faster than a manual wok, helping eliminate multiple steps that staff would ultimately have to do. Overall, the use of the PAW has allowed Panda Express to improve overall staff retention.
What are customer perspectives on restaurant robots?
With technology already so pervasive in our personal and professional lives—from self-driving cars to package delivery drones—restaurant robots seem to be a win-win for businesses and customers.
From a customer’s perspective, restaurant robots:
- Are already creating meals and drinks that they like, such as in the case of one food company boasting 60,000 robot-cooked dishes sold and top customer ratings across all major delivery apps.
- Can help keep food costs down as businesses respond to a tight labor market by passing on costs to patrons.
- Ensure restaurant employees are available to help with specialized orders or needs.
- Are an extension of other technologies they are already comfortable using, such as self-ordering kiosks.
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The rapid rise in restaurant robots and kitchen automation seems to be cooking up plenty of benefits for both employees and customers, especially for businesses that are ahead of the curve.
Robots and other technologies like self-service kiosks are logical evolutions in restaurant tech, but staying ahead of tomorrow’s cutting-edge innovations can be hard to do. That’s why you should take a moment to subscribe to the Burroughs blog and get the latest information about self-service, cash automation, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology that can drive your business forward delivered straight to your inbox.