Don’t Get Blindsided as Robotics and AI Disrupt the Foodservice Industry

Don’t Get Blindsided as Robotics and AI Disrupt the Foodservice Industry

Prepare yourself for the effects of increased restaurant automation.

The stuff of science fiction fantasy is quickly emerging into the real world as we enter the 2020’s. Automation and robotics are primed to change the way we work in drastic ways.

And change will come quickly as these technologies become more affordable as the cost of human labor goes up. So it’s important to understand how these technologies will affect your restaurant business, and how to capitalize on these changes to stay competitive and profitable as a restaurant operator.

Some of these technologies are already in full effect. What domains are these technologies involved in?

  • Self-Ordering
  • Cooking/Prep
  • Drink Making
  • Delivery Automation

Some automated systems cover more than one phase of operations. While most systems work side-by-side with human counterparts, others require almost no human assistance.

Let’s take a look at each of these in depth to get an idea of how this technology will affect us in the future.

Self-Ordering Automation

Today there are two primary means for guests to place their own orders: online through apps on their smartphone or with a self ordering kiosk in the dining area.

This technology is already fully embraced by the industry. The rapid adoption of apps and tablets gives you an idea of how quickly new technology can be embraced by bars and restaurants if they increase efficiency.

Initially look for these systems to become more common as they move from casual dining into more sit-down restaurants with kiosks in their waiting area for to-go orders.

Later in the decade expect to see more fast casual concepts trading lines for kiosks and fewer human staff in front of house.

In the near future you can also expect the cashier at the drive through to be an AI voice assistant, similar to Siri and Alexa.

Kitchen Prep Automation

The cost of hospitality industry labor is projected to continue to rise as the workforce ages and fewer teens enter the workforce. That’s why kitchen prep technology will become more attractive.

Introducing robots and AI into the kitchen reduces the potential for injury to workers. And this category is quite diverse, as the equipment needs of restaurants depend largely on the concept.

AI systems are already helping some restaurants monitor and reduce waste. As more restaurateurs become active in the global challenge to reduce food waste, systems like Winnow are designed to use AI to recognize food waste to track and report what is thrown away. Then management can view statistics about the amount and type of waste and audit practices.

Tedious jobs in the kitchen will also be automated. There are a few designers working on an automatic silverware rolling system, for example, though no one seems to have quite perfected it yet.

Because prep requires a lot more fine motor skills and human judgement, innovation will be slower here than in other areas.

Cooking and Cold Food Automation

For certain types of dishes automation is coming quickly. From burgers to stir fry robots are getting good at dispensing metered portions of human-prepped ingredients to cook for preset amounts of time.

With these systems a human adds the finishing touches and makes sure the items meet quality standards. But some foods don’t require cooking, like salads, and frozen yogurt. In this case, almost no human interaction is required.

Some food prep robots function more like vending machines. But because they are serving meals, robots are your competition in the foodservice space.

This speaks to larger challenges in the food service industry as finding affordable skilled labor will continue to be a challenge in the future.

Bars and Drink Automation

Unlike kitchen prep and cooking, drinks require little to no prep, contain limited ingredients with easy to follow recipes and ingredients that are easy to store. This makes the drink service business a perfect candidate for rapid adoption of automation.

Supplies can easily be loaded by humans every few hours, or when needed so the robotic systems are nearly autonomous. Since guests customize their drinks on kiosks or on their phone they feel in control.

Expect the industry to see more robotic competition for serving smoothies, coffee drinks and even cocktails in the very near future.

Delivery Automation

In many ways, delivery services are already highly automated. Apps connect the whole process from order taking to order making to order delivery.

When guests place orders through smartphone apps the orders are sent directly to your restaurant POS for preparation. When ready, apps notify the delivery drivers, and guide the drivers to the customer’s location.

Despite this increase in automation, humans still make up the delivery army. However, robots have already started to get in on the delivery game. Although still in beta, pilot programs have been run by DoorDash, Dominos and others over the last few years.

These first generation bots are small, single order delivery systems. Inevitably, as the self driving cars become more sophisticated, autonomous delivery systems will be practical for longer distances.

Autonomous delivery technology is close to breaking through challenges in safety and object recognition, but before widespread implementation they will first have to break through cultural resistance. The primary hindrance to autonomous delivery bots in the next 10 years won’t be technology, but local laws and regulations.

Rest assured, it’s just around the corner.

Conclusion

With food service industry automation there’s no tipping and there are no germs. But there’s also no friendly banter with staff (or complaining to the manager).

The innovation in this space addresses several key struggles the restaurant business faces. While more people are eating out, affordable skilled workers are in shorter supply. Automation, AI and robotics in the restaurant industry relieve some of this pressure and create opportunities for restaurants and bars to provide high quality ingredients at a price point consumers can swallow.

Some segments will see rapid adoption of automation, such as beverage service, QSR and fast casual, yet will still require human staff on site to tend to the robots and assist customers. More complicated duties like kitchen prep and delivery will automate at a slower but steady rate.

Across the spectrum, the speed of adoption of AI, robotics and automation in the hospitality industry will be slowed more by the acceptance of society, than the speed of technological development.

Rezku helps bar and restaurant owners stay on the forefront of hospitality industry technology, providing you with the most current tools for today’s business, while preparing you for the future. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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