Some fast food chains are turning to robots due to staff shortages: a turning point in tech and catering?

The catering sector in several countries is facing a labor shortage. A real problem that restaurant chains are trying to solve by turning to task automation.

News: more and more fast food chains are allowing themselves to be tempted by robots to perform certain tasks.

  • Tex-mex chain Chipotle is testing a robot to make tortilla chips.
  • Sweetgreen, which specializes in mixed salads, plans to automate the production of certain salads in at least two of its stores, according to CNBC.
  • For its part, Starbucks wants to reduce the workload of baristas by automating coffee production as much as possible.

Details: 2022 has seen many automation announcements in the fast food industry, especially in the United States.

  • Trends rooted in workforce reduction. Operators are struggling to find a solution to this problem, but so is the need to increase wages to attract and retain employees.
    • Even before the pandemic, restaurant owners struggled to attract and retain workers. When the health crisis hit, many were fired, without returning, while others simply resigned during the so-called “major resignations”. Today, nearly three-quarters of restaurateurs face shortagesaccording to the National Restaurant Association.
    • A situation that prevents them from operating at full capacity.

Automation as a solution

A problematic situation that hides opportunity for some, especially for automation startups that are ensuring that their robots can flip burgers and assemble pizzas faster than overworked employees and their artificial intelligence is better at taking orders.

  • The Miso Robotics company is without a doubt one of the most talked about this year. Its valuation is $523 million, according to Pitchbook. In November, he raised $108 million.
    • Its flagship product is the robot Flippy, which can flip burgers and fry chicken wings for $3,000 a month. It is present in 4 restaurants of the White Castle hamburger chain, which plans to integrate it into another 100 restaurants in the future.
    • This is one that Chipotle is testing out for its tortillas, which have been renamed “Chippy” for the event.

“The most important benefit we bring to restaurants is not to spend less, but to enable them to sell more and turn a profit”

Miso CEO Mike Bell tells CNBC.

Eliminate tedious tasks

Many see automation as a threat to workers. A criticism that has been met with negative response by companies: robots are a means of improving working conditions, in particular by eliminating tedious tasks. Truly ?

  • With the pandemic, more and more consumers are turning to ordering terminals or mobile apps, to the detriment of expensive and bloody employees.
    • This has caused a revolution in fast food chains. Currently, some only offer this terminal to order.
  • What allows employees to focus on order preparation? It may be.
  • However, as Casey Warman, professor of economics at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia points out: “Once engines are in place, they don’t come back, especially if there are significant savings” .
  • In other words, the push for automation in the restaurant industry is expected to reduce the human workforce permanently.

Real threat?

For now : Efforts to automate certain tasks are uneven across the fast food industry and it will likely take several years for robots to prove attractive to businesses, experts say.

  • In other words, fast food employees still have a bright future ahead of them.
  • “I think there’s a lot of experimentation that will get us somewhere, but we’re still a labor-intensive, labor-intensive industry,” said David Henkes, director of Technomic, a restaurant research firm.

What’s more: the long-term economic benefits of robots have not been fully determined.

  • Several companies that turned to robots or control software have given up on their projects.
  • The problem is, in some cases, human employees prove to be more effective.

“The idea of ​​robots and all that, while it may be great for making headlines, isn’t practical in most restaurants. The economy is not at a meeting point… Not the day after tomorrow this solution will be generalized. »

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski.

If it’s still not perfect right now, it’s likely that fast food robots will improve in the coming years. In this case, they can actually be a threat to employees, even if it costs less to the restaurant owner. Only the future will tell us.

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