COMMENTARY

Automation: The possibilities of robo-restaurateuring - Part 3 of 3

March 15, 2017 | by Sagi Rochman

Complete Automation in a foodservice operation is relatively rare at the moment. San Francisco fast food chain, Eatsa, and Hong Kong restaurant, Genki Sushi, are currently the pioneers in this movement that largely removes the human element from the dining experience. 

In Eatsa’s case, customers place their orders via a self-service terminal and then retrieve their food from a glass cubby. At Genki Sushi, customers order using a tableside tablet, receive their food via a miniature train that runs around the restaurant. They wrap up the auto-experience by paying at a self-service kiosk prior to leaving. 

To say that these are cases of total automation and a human-less experience is a bit inaccurate. The automation really only occurs in the front of the house, and there’s almost always a concierge or other restaurant representative standing by in case of any issues. Likewise, of course, there are people working behind the scenes preparing the food. 

Nevertheless, this is about as close as we’ve gotten to fully automating the dining process and it’s an interesting prospect, to say the least. After all, it's got the leader of Hardee's and Carl’s Jr.’s Andy Puzder thinking about it,though it probably did not do him many favors with the nation's workforce or in the overall fight for the Labor Secretary nomination. 

Robotics

We’ve heard about threats of machines taking over and/or replacing organic life forms for quite some time now.  Often referred to as the "technological singularity" — when machines replace man, the subject has run central in science fiction works, including everything from the 1957 Harlan Ellison short story, Soldier from Tomorrow, to the wildly popular Matrix movies series from the Wachowskis, where humans are literally "farmed" by robots to fuel real world domination.

For all these one-time works of fiction, the day has arrived when the fantastical nature of the subject has become reality. Just in the last year, for instance, some signs that this new age is dawning, include: 

  • The introduction of three new food preparation robots at the May 2016 National Restaurant Association show in Chicago.
  • Last summer's news that a company of Stanford tech gurus and foodies is working to open a "robotic burger joint," where a machine saidto be capable of churning out 400 made-to-order burgers an hour will essentially "be" the kitchen
  • Also last summer, Silicon Valley’sZume Pizzamade news when it incorporated pizza-making robots, dubbed names like Marta and Bruno, to handle many parts of the creation and baking process at the restaurant, with plans to actually bake pizzas in delivery vehicles at some point.
  • Just Eats and Starship Technologies began food delivery byself-driving robot in London this January, much to the surprise of the unflappable British passersby that spotted the four-wheeled delivery "guy" rolling along the streets in late January to fill customers' initial orders. The company has said it plans to roll out its robotic deliverers in Washington, D.C. soon too. 

When we talk about robotic automation in the context of a restaurant, the current focus is on shifting mundane, repetitive tasks away from human employees and over to robots. According to some though, we may get much more in return down the road with robotics that offer better consistency in food preparation, less food waste, improved safety and perhaps even lower menu prices.

Only time will tell with this one, but for now here are the leading players in foodservice robotics.

•    Starship Technologies
•    Zume Pizza
•    Momentum Machines

Smart Sensors
Chipotle's devastating problems and consequential financial problems have made it plain that food safety is in need of a lot of help in the restaurant industry. That's why kitchen sensors, video monitoring, temperature regulation, and other smart automations are fast-becoming a must for every restaurant kitchen. 

Customers need to be kept safe when it comes to the foods they eat while dining out, and that means kitchens need to be more closely regulated and monitored. Five Guys is just one of those brands which has invested in this type of automation in their current use of a temperature tracking solution to keep tabs on their restaurants’ adherence to food safety protocols.

But, beyond the use of sensors and employment of hyper-vigilant practices around food safety, restaurant also need to strongly consider employing some system to provide real-time data,  as well as tracking to connect all these sensors and devices together. Here are some of the leading technologies:
•    Monnit
•    ComplianceMate
•    TempAlert

Operations Management Software
As you can see, each of the above automation solutions has a direct impact on the guest experience. But automation isn’t just about that new piece of equipment that speeds up the ordering process. It’s also very much about streamlining operations. 

With digital operations management software, restaurant operators can automate: 
•    Training, including gamified teaching modules, consistent education and mobile access.
•    Employee scheduling, including templatized shift planning, budget control and legal compliance.
•    Human resources, including automated tracking systems, application screening and even interview templates.
•    Operations oversight, including round-the-clock access to data, real-time notifications and messaging. 
•    Inventory management, including digital checklists and stricter safety compliance.

In the above areas, some of the leading technologies come from:
•    QSRonline
•    HotSchedules
•    PeachWorks

Wrapping Up
Automation is the future of the restaurant industry in some degree. No, that doesn’t mean all restaurants will soon have robots running the show, but it does mean every restaurant operator needs to seriously consider how they can best use these  types of technology to achieve their business goals. 

Of course, the upfront investment in new technologies will bring some disruption to restaurants which will experience an uptick in costs at the start. But the fact is, the restaurant game is changing to a much more automated business and those who don't do their homework now and begin the adaptation process will very likely be left as mere memories. 

 

For more information on improving the customer experience, visit The Interactive Customer Experience Association. Its mission is to help brands apply technology to the goal of creating transcendent customer experiences. The ICX Association is a vital hub that connects users and suppliers in collaborative forums, be they virtual or physical, to understand how seemingly unrelated technologies can be integrated to create experiences so meaningful that customers can’t imagine doing business elsewhere. (The Association's website, icxa.org, is a sister site to this one.)

Photo: iStock


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability


Sagi Rochman / For over two decades, Sagi Rochman experienced first-hand the challenges faced by hospitality operators as he owned, scaled, and sold businesses in the space. He has since taken that knowledge and used it to build Better Chains, the hospitality workforce operations solution.
wwwView Sagi Rochman's profile on LinkedIn

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