ROBOCHEF

A growing list of concerns the hospitality industry faces encouraged Restaurant and Café to explore solutions in the automated and AI-driven fields. Will robot chefs plug the labour shortages? There are a range of technologies already employed throughout the foodservice industry, from intelligent POS systems that communicate with ordering software, to accounting programmes, to actual robotic assistance. These ideas are laid out in a spectrum—some are readily available/already in use across the board, some are pioneering prototypes that standalone. What can the foodservice industry expect from machinery and AI in the coming years?

Domino’s DOM Pizza Checker.

The restaurant and café industry has generally been quick to adopt, and then implement, machine or AI-driven technology. Just this year has seen Domino’s implement the DOM checker, for instance—a device that determines whether a pizza is up to scratch without the need for human eyes. A range of QSRs have trialled AI technology in the drive-thru, eliminating the need for human ears. For the most part, these are relatively harmless trials. If the DOM checker were to fail, one would hope that the pizza is being made to a high standard, regardless. If the AI drive-thru failed, there would likely be a person ready to take an order, anyway. Perhaps this is why the industry is yet to see a horde of robotic chefs operating the grills. If a robot chef were to fail, who knows what it could end up doing to a meal. With technology, restaurants are willing to trial things, but run the risk of damaging their reputation should something go awry. However, it is predicted that should a piece of technology revolutionise any aspect of foodservice, operators that cannot afford to invest, will lose out. This is best highlighted in the case of delivery, and the spread of that technology. Restaurants that could not, or do not provide this type of service, miss out on a broad niche of clientele.

Robotic chef showcased at GITEX in Dubai. (www.restaurantandcafe.co.nz/chef-of-the-future/)

Regardless of its application, AI has the potential to help the foodservice industry in its primary goal—personalised, and customisable service. A venue that can provide a personalised experience for its customers is likely one that will receive return business. AI has the power to leverage data insight, for example, something that can help a business to understand its customers better, and provide a better-designed experience for them. Furthermore, AI has the power to reduce mundane tasks that human employees have previously done. This allows them to focus on providing a better face-to-face service.

At this stage, it is unclear as to whether the labour shortage, for instance, will be plugged, or whether it will be plugged with an overflow. There are concerns that robots will eventually take over human jobs, which, perhaps in some way, is true. However, there is still a way to go before this sort of concern is justifiable. Robot waitstaff, or robotic baristas are employed in various locations around the world, but they are far from the norm, and remain a novelty. While people may think of restaurant tech as a robot in the kitchen juggling pans and flipping burgers, this is realistically years off. A recent demonstration of an actual robotic chef showed that it is possible—but for now, it remains a demonstration, not a viable opportunity for the average business operator.

Robotic waitstaff. (http://restaurantandcafe.co.nz/robot-waiters-in-japan/)

One thing, however, remains certain: AI and technology-based solutions are here to stay. Every operator would love to be able to provide a more personal experience while simultaneously reducing time and financial waste—something that tech has the power to do. Data analytics are already quite sophisticated, and with AI-based technologies on the horizon, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see something like AI drive-thrus takeover. For now, though, robochefs are not going to become common. Maybe within ten years, but not right now. AI and tech will creep into the industry insidiously, though, and before you know it, perhaps there will be a robochef with four arms preparing your meal.