- Derek Engles
Robots are Coming to a Restaurant Near You
(Published on LinkedIn)
Since beginning the effort to widen my social media presence, I have been researching the many trends that are approaching us in the food and beverage industry. It is very difficult to change management systems in the hospitality space, as the workforce tends to be blue collar and the c-suite mentality gravitates towards the status quo. However, whether we like it or not, the world is changing; rapidly migrating towards a system where humans and robots will coexist in the workforce. Event though the hospitality space tends to be slow to react to technology trends, the future is here and with the 5G network upon us, robots will be coming to a hotel or restaurant near you.
With the economy at full employment, recruiting has become a hot topic in the food & beverage industry. It is not only difficult to find good waiters and bartenders; it is near impossible to find quality, experienced managers. With it being so tough to find good help, the propensity to invite new technology into this work space is high and what seemed like “pie in the sky” just 2 years ago is now a viable solution to the labor shortage issues faced by the industry. All one must do is google “robot restaurants” and the articles flow like water, with every major food & beverage magazine running at least one piece on this topic over the past 6 months. During the previous CES conference, robots were on full display, and the interaction capability is rapidly moving from creepy to cool. The real friction point is just that; once robotics goes from creepy to cool, a phase which most technological advances go through, the incorporation of robotics into restaurants on a massive scale will begin. The technology is here, and with 5G computing prowess about to be unleashed to the public, it is just a matter of time before many of the 20 million jobs in the hospitality industry are in jeopardy.
The restaurant business has tight margins that seem to grow narrower no matter how you run your establishment. The desire for more accuracy, less waste and better management of kitchen operations is palpable, as increasing costs plague the business. Food cost goes up every year, wages rise every 2 years and dry goods always follow that trend. There are only 2 ways to remain profitable: raise prices to offset operational costs or change the way the business operates. Enter the robots, a phrase becoming more and more acceptable to owners, operators and customers. The automated kitchen can calculate every French fry’s weight, inner temperature and cook time as it is prepared. Every steak in the broiler has the inner and outer temperature monitored, eliminating human error out of food preparation. Every piece of poultry in the walk-in cooler has a freshness countdown that is relayed in real time to the head chef. It goes on and on; from produce freshness to inventory stock control being improved by real time, artificially intelligent technology systems that will improve the way restaurants operate. The possibilities are endless for robotics in the kitchen, while the abilities and skill set of those available for work on “the line” are stagnant. It is only a matter of time before these positions are overtaken by robotics, as the cost benefit of human workers decreases.
The internet is filled with articles about the end of the human workforce and the coming of robotics into our daily lives. There must be a happy medium here, as more automation means less tax revenue, less opportunity and less of a future for the American worker. As 5G networks make automation as fast as the human mind thinks, we face some real challenges as it pertains to the productivity of human workers in skilled labor jobs. Hotel and restaurant operators cannot overlook the cost benefits to this coming technology, as menu prices become prohibitive for the average household and dining out is being replaced by dining in. In ten years, all cars in China will be automated; all of them. It is certainly not inconceivable that half of all restaurant positions could be automated on that exact timeline. The robots really are coming to a restaurant near you.