Robots replacing employees as minimum wage increases?
More and more I hear had workers hours are cut, the dining experience is changing because there are fewer people working on a shift, positions are being eliminated. This can be a scary trend because restaurant owners are having to look at different options in staffing in order to not raise prices to their consumers. There may be a time when the minimum wage may be $15/hr but no hourlie employees are getting hired.
There is now the first, fully automated burger restaurant (Bbox) in San Francisco who is fully automated.
Bbox serves a collection of hearty goods, including pastries and java from local purveyors Semifreddi’s and Highwire Coffee Roasters, respectively.
- Save the customers filtering in and out of the young concept, there’s not a human in sight.
- No cashier taking payment.
- No barista handing out steaming cups of joe.
- No kitchen worker plating breakfast sandwiches.
Rather, consumers order ahead via a mobile app before picking up their goods—prepped and loaded into a cubby by a robot—at the Bbox kiosk.
Bbox is undeniably futuristic, unapologetically bold, and, just possibly, a harbinger of things to come in the pressure-packed quick-service world, one in which high-tech tools like robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have arrived to offer a competitive boost.
In San Francisco’s Bay Area, Zume Pizza uses robotics and AI to craft its pies, from pressing the dough and spreading the sauce to placing pizzas in the oven. Down the California coast in Pasadena, CaliBurger tested AI-powered facial recognition software that allowed customers to pay for their meals with a glance into the camera.
Over in Brooklyn, “sushi robots” produce upward of 400 rolls per hour at Bigeye Sushi. In Boston, four MIT engineering students teamed with chef Daniel Boulud to launch Spyce, where a robotic kitchen dishes globally inspired bowls as well as vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. And in Tokyo, a pop-up café called Dawn opened last November with an all-robot staff. Ten staff members with restrictive physical conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (als) or spinal cord injuries controlled the café’s 4-foot robots from their homes.
But it’s not just the starry-eyed upstarts bringing the high-tech flavor. Last fall, Pizza Hut unveiled the PIE Pro, a delivery-focused innovation in which a pre-assembled pizza is cooked and sliced within the bed of a Toyota Tundra pickup truck before being dispensed to the customer.
Companies like Clinc and Encounter AI, meanwhile, are helping established quick-service players integrate AI into their drive thru to fuel a faster, more accurate experience. From prompting the customer to order and processing the request to sending the order to the restaurant’s point-of-sale system, Encounter AI’s technology processes a drive-thru order from end to end. Staff members only collect payment and supply the food.
From labor to food to real estate, quick-service restaurants face various cost pressures that threaten long-term sustainability. Technology has long been viewed as an antidote to such woes, especially given the potential of innovative tools like robotics and AI to improve unit-level economics.
In fact, that’s what led Becker and Lessans—who witnessed the launch and growth of Roti Modern Mediterranean firsthand through family connections—to investigate industrial automation’s place in quick-service restaurants.
“We saw the challenges of the [quick-service] model from the very beginning with Roti, so our idea was to leverage technology to lure better restaurant economics,” Becker says. “The guiding question was: How can we build a better restaurant business model to save as much margin as possible?”
Concepts like Bbox offer impressive cost-savings potential at a time of unprecedented cost pressures. At Spyce, for instance, CEO Michael Farid says the restaurant only needs about four staff members to gracefully man the lunch rush.
“The overhead savings are clear and obvious, and that certainly helps with a brand’s long-term prospects,” Farid says.
CONSISTENTLY DELIVERING A DESIRABLE PRODUCT
Voting regularly with their wallets, consumers have set a high bar for freshness and ingredient sourcing. When a restaurant can develop an appealing culinary formula and then replicate those meals time and time again, it’s an attractive proposition to both the consumer and the operator.
From seasonings shaken out to the gram to expertly toasted buns, Creator’s robot kitchen prepares the concept’s burgers with absolute precision. Freshness and accuracy reign, and consumers see the sustainably sourced ingredients come together before their eyes like never before.
“Robotics make it possible to offer the transparency customers crave,” says David Bordow, Creator’s culinary lead and experience designer.
Enhanced value proposition
Buoyed by improved unit-level economics and precision, high-tech tools also democratize high-quality food and gourmet culinary techniques.
Starting at $6, Creator’s burgers feature pastured, ethically raised beef and ingredients from smaller, local farms. And because the burgers are created—quite literally—at the press of a button, the eatery can spend more of its time on sourcing and maintaining an accessible price point.
At Bbox, meanwhile, a 12-ounce serving of Highwire Coffee runs $2, about half the price that same cup commands elsewhere.
“We’re taking all the savings we’re getting and putting them directly into high-quality items at lower prices,” Becker says.