“Short of workers, fast-food restaurants turn to robots”

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a very interesting article. While anxious papers are flourishing, predicting us a terrible future made of robots taking our jobs, this one took an unprecedented approach.

The article explains that entry-level low-wage jobs in fast-food restaurants are no longer attracting anyone. As a consequence, the industry is slowly turning to robots. Robots are good at handling tasks like ordering or cleaning for example. Tasks that can be automated. But they don’t replace humans. Humans just see their jobs evolving. They have more time to provide services that customers are looking for.

Let’s take the example of McDonald’s. You can see more and more kiosks being used to take orders, but the people who used to be cashiers didn’t disappear. Instead, their mission is also to deliver meals at your table once they’re ready, saving you the not-so-rewarding experience of waiting for it by yourself at the counter.  And making your whole experience as a customer better.


“Emerging chains go all-in on kiosks”

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It turns out that just a few days after the Wall Street Journal article, Restaurant-Hospitality.com wrote this piece about companies using kiosks massively, sometimes even having a fully robotized kitchen and almost no human workers.

The first paragraph tells a lot about the industry: “The kiosk movement comes at a time when the IT department at a restaurant company is becoming equally as crucial as menu development or operations.”. Welcome to 2018, where every company is also a software company.

The COO of Corona – a burger company – is quoted saying “Millennials don’t like to talk to human beings”. It’s a bit provocative; of course millennials want to talk to human beings, they just don’t want to talk to human beings for everything. They talk with friends and family just like anyone, but when they visit to a burger joint, they come for the burger, not to talk to someone, even more if talking makes the whole process longer. Convenience and speed are presented as important advantages provided by kiosks to customers, also generating loyalty from them.

For restaurants, on top of customer experience, the interest of kiosks is also financial: orders through kiosks can be up to 20% pricier compared to orders taken by human cashiers. Because kiosks push special offers every time. Push additional products every time. No matter what. We’re talking big money here. 20% is not the kind of offer you can really refuse. Even half of that would be just fine I guess.


What’s next?

It’s hard to make definitive sentences on this topic. For sure tech is becoming more and more important in restaurants and this is not something that will stop soon. Just think how food tech and delivery is reshaping the industry. Everything doesn’t happen only in the restaurant or in the kitchen anymore.

Is it enough to go all in and predict a future where all restaurants would only be filled with robots? Magne Modstad – labor economist at the University of Chicago makes an interesting point in the WSJ: “Automation may very well create a demand for service with a personal touch”. That sounds to me exactly like one of the things that AI is trying to achieve at the moment