Wall Street Times

Robots played big roles in restaurants this past year

Robots: In recent years, the hospitality sector, especially restaurants, have modified their tactics to include more technology.

AI has recently been frequently incorporated in restaurants.

For instance, at certain branches, Chipotle Mexican Grill is studying the possibility of using robots to produce tortilla chips.

Two Sweetgreen restaurants want to automate the process of making their salads.

To reduce the amount of labor that its baristas have to do, Starbucks intends to modernize its coffee-making equipment.

The progress so far

The restaurant business outlined several automation plans for 2022.

The decision was made as operators struggled to find solutions for the shrinking crew and rising wages.

However, throughout the year, tactics have changed.

Experts predict that it will be some time before using robots pays off for businesses or removes workers.

The principal of the restaurant sector research company Technomic, David Henkes, said:

“I think there’s a lot of experimentation that is going to lead us somewhere at some point.”

“But we’re still a very labor intensive, labor-driven industry.”

Early struggles

Restaurants had trouble finding and keeping employees before the outbreak.

People who lost their employment looked for new professions as the pandemic just highlighted the problem.

National Restaurant Association underwent a survey and found that three-quarters of restaurants are unable to run at full capacity due to a lack of employees.

Despite paying more to attract and retain employees, restaurant owners still faced pressure from growing food prices.

Startups with an emphasis on automation offered themselves as the solution, arguing that robots are more reliable than fatigued humans in completing tasks.

They pointed out that drive-thru orders via computers is made possible by artificial intelligence.

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Miso Robotics, a company that raised $108 million in November, was the provider of the bulk of the 2022 announcements.

They had a $523 million market value, according to Pitchbook.

The most important development of the company is a robot called Flippy.

For a $3,000 monthly leasing price, Flippy may be set up to make burgers and chicken wings.

While renovating four locations, White Castle committed to install 100 more Flippy models.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is currently testing a new robot named Chippy that makes tortilla chips at a branch in California.

Mike Bell, the CEO of Miso, said:

“The highest value benefit that we bring to a restaurant is not to reduce their expenses, but to allow them to sell more and generate a profit.”

After operating there for more than a year, Flippy hasn’t been able to go past the testing phase.

Other progress

Miso is the name of one of the privately held firms that Inspire Brands said it collaborated with to automate the frying of chicken wings.

Startup Picnic Works manufactures equipment for topping pizza with cheese, sauce, and other ingredients.

In Berlin, a Domino’s franchise is currently testing the technology.

The equipment rental rate at Picnic Works is $3,250 per month as the base price.

According to CEO Clayton Wood, smaller businesses can opt for the technology thanks to the price-friendly subscription.

Picnic Works raised $58.8 million from $13.8 million, according to Pitchbook.

Panera Bread has been experimenting with AI-based automatic ordering.

To enhance the quality of the coffee, it utilizes a temperature and volume tracking Miso system.

“Automation is one word, and a lot of people go right to robotics and a robot flipping burgers or making fries,” said Panera Bread chief digital officer George Hanson.

“That is not our focus.”

Success is not assured, despite the advances.

Zume abandoned the using of robots to prepare, cook, and deliver food starting in 2020.

The business instead concentrated on food packaging.


Employers are frequently criticized by employees and labor activists for eliminating jobs at work by using robots and automation.

Restaurant owners have meanwhile regarded their initiatives as a method to enhance working conditions and avoid more difficult responsibilities.

Two new Sweetgreen restaurants that will be opened next year will use technology developed by the startup Spyce to automate the process of making salads.

Nic Jammet, co-founder and CCO of Sweetgreen, found that the new restaurant model requires fewer staff for shifts.

Jammet pointed out that higher employee satisfaction and decreased turnover rates were extra benefits.

Casey Warman, an economist at Dalhousie University, predicts that the industry’s reliance on automation will result in a permanent decline in the number of employment.

“Once the machines are in place, they’re not going to go backwards, especially if there’s large cost savings,” said Warman.

The pandemic, he continued, dramatically reduced resistance to automation.

Customers were utilized to grocery store self-checkout lanes and depended on mobile apps to place their food orders in the early stages of the pandemic.

Dina Zemke, an assistant professor at Ball State University, studies how customer perceive restaurant automation.

Zemke remarked that due to a labor shortage, customers were tired of restaurants’ short hours and sluggish service.

In a third-quarter Technomic study, 22% of the owners of more than 500 restaurants reported that they were making investments in equipment that would make hiring kitchen employees redundant.

Also starting to employ labor-saving technologies for ordering are 19% of households.

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Automation has advantages, but it’s still unclear whether there will be any money saved.

After purchasing the AI startup Apprente, McDonald’s tested order-taking technologies for drive-thrus years ago.

The fast food titan sold the unit to IBM as part of a collaboration to advance the technology months after announcing the test.

The accuracy of the voice-ordering program was just 80% in more than twenty Illinois test branches, falling short of the desired 95% accuracy.

Chris Kempczinski, the McDonald’s CEO, spoke about automation in a meeting months earlier.

“The idea of robots and all of those things, while it maybe is great for garnering headlines, it’s not practical in the vast majority of restaurants,” said Kempczinski.

“The economics don’t pencil out. You’re not going to see that as a broad-based solution anytime soon.”

However, there is more room for automation in trivial work.

Jamie Richardson, vice president of White Castle, claimed that new technologies like Coca-Cola Freestyle machines had a greater effect on sales.

“Sometimes the bigger automation investments we make aren’t as earth shattering,” said Richardson.


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