The tight labor market, including in the restaurant industry, has owners looking at alternatives to fill positions. Some have even turned to robots to serve up plates.
That’s right: a growing number of restaurants and hotels have turned to robotics to help out with the labor shortage. According to an article in The New York Times, these robots are being utilized, for example, to carry plates of food from the kitchen to tables. Waiters can then place the plates on the customers’ tables. The robots use camera and laser sensors to carry the food. They also have weight sensors, so they know when the items are removed and can return to the kitchen for the next order.
Japan is at the forefront of using robots in restaurants, born out of necessity amid labor challenges and a desire for contactless services in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Robots are employed to deliver food to tables, and they talk to customers, saying things like, “Thank you for waiting.”
Some robots are even being used to fry food like French fries and chicken wings. They use artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, and robotic arms like Flippy, which can fry everything from burgers to onion rings. Other robots, like Peanut Robotics, sanitize and clean a restaurant.
Interactive robotic bartenders have also made their debut. They can mix dozens of cocktails, with some speaking multiple languages, and can even crack jokes. Customers can either request their order verbally or use a touchscreen menu to select from a variety of cocktails that emerge from a slot in the machine. One robot can respond with available options or even suggest an alternative for customers. The idea is not to replace human bartenders with robots, but to help sell and make more drinks.
Food Delivery Robots
If you live in Los Angeles and other cities, you may have caught a glimpse of a robot en route to its final destination, navigating red lights and obstacles. It’s delivering food from local restaurants to customers. Restaurateurs who are using robots for delivery say they are more efficient for deliveries within two miles. Robots can get there faster than a driver in traffic, and they cut down on carbon emissions.
Working Out the Kinks
Of course, there are challenges with the use of robots. They are unable to maneuver through narrow hall spaces and can’t climb stairs in restaurants. One restaurateur found its robot turning away from customers who were wearing too much metal jewelry, and another had a robot that talked too much and had to have its interactive function turned off. When it’s time to recharge, a robot will leave its duty and go to its charging station. Manufacturers are busy working out these and other kinks in robots and are coming out with updated versions.
No one envisions robots replacing restaurant staff. Robots will do the jobs people don’t want and free up a staff’s time to do what they do best. You need the human touch, the interaction, and the personal service that only people can offer, which is what the hospitality industry is all about.