As restaurant labor issues combine with rising food costs and other supply chain issues to present new challenges, the need to leverage technology for greater operational efficiency becomes more and more pressing. Thus, many companies are looking for automated solutions to reduce their labor requirements, leading to rapid innovations in restaurant robotics.
However, in an interview with PYMNTS, Jake Brewer, chief strategy officer of restaurant industry Robots-as-a-Service company Miso Robotics, warned that the rush to develop new products could come at the expense of the best use of existing technologies.
“It’s the old adage: one in the hand is worth two in the bush,” Brewer said. “You could always hunt two of these two birds in the bush and never catch them… Many of these brands, including Miso, have several products on hand that we know work and we know solve a big problem in the world. ‘industry… [Some] people have been chasing that next big innovation forever, and they never really do their first project.
Miso, for its part, has rolled out a robotic fryer, with an artificial intelligence (AI) grill sensor system and an automated beverage dispenser coming soon to market. Earlier this month, the company announced the opening of its Series E funding round, following its $50 million funding round in its Series C and D rounds.
The digital control effect
Brewer argued that with the rise of digital ordering making consumers more likely to place orders remotely, restaurants cannot depend on order flow to follow the patterns they might generally expect, making more likely that a restaurant will be backed up to meet an unexpected large number. ordered.
For example, he said, “If the 10th floor of the office park down the street with 200 people in it, all of a sudden it’s like, ‘You know what? Let’s order Chipotle today,’ [a restaurant] can [be] have a normal day, and boom, you have a huge order.
He argued that while these unexpectedly large orders can present a valuable sales opportunity, they can present labor challenges for down-staffed restaurants, increasing the need for automated solutions.
According to data from the PYMNTS’ 2022 Restaurant Friction Index, created in collaboration with Paytronix, 41% of restaurant sales are generated through digital channels. Additionally, 58% of Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) and 42% of Table Service Restaurants now offer online ordering
Read more: New data shows digital loyalty programs are a key differentiator for top-performing restaurants
Additionally, the study, which is based on a survey of a balanced panel of more than 2,100 U.S. consumers and more than 500 restaurant managers, found that 100% of top-performing restaurants offered the opportunity to order online and pick up the food in the store. Meanwhile, only a third of underperformers offer the same.
Meanwhile, in front of the house
Automation isn’t just helping restaurants address labor challenges in their kitchens. Brewer noted that the front-of-house automation space is more advanced, with AI-powered steering wheel voice control well on its way. Moreover, consumers are already becoming more comfortable with technology.
“There are a lot of people who have talked to a Siri, they talk to Alexa, they talk to Google Home,” he said. “And so talking to someone who is an AI voice assistant, say, in the drive-thru is a normalized and more mature technology area in the restaurant industry.”
He argued that back-of-the-house automation can be more complicated because the work is shared between machines and human employees, who both have to work together, with robots covering repetitive, dangerous and/or tasks. or unpleasant and with humans do the rest of the work.
“Those are the two trends I see – people focusing on transplanting current technology or…implementing [robotics technology] in a new way in a new space,” he said.
The next big thing
Looking to the future, Brewer said he’s “really excited” about the possibility of “cobotics” – robots that can truly collaborate with humans on joint tasks – in the restaurant industry. He noted that this type of technology could be anywhere between five and 15 years old.
“No one will release real cobotics on a large scale [anytime soon],” he said.
In the nearer future, he said he believes digital restaurant systems will become increasingly capable of communicating with each other, with humans playing a smaller and smaller role in the process. Miso’s future robotic beverage dispenser, for example, is compatible with restaurant point-of-sale (POS) systems to automatically process the order.
Brewer predicted that the space could evolve to be more digitally integrated over the next year to 18 months.
“I really think brands are really going to start integrating some of these things where when you order on, say, your mobile app, it goes from your phone at the restaurant POS straight to the robot,” he said. declared. . “For example, the restaurant may react to an order before the human labor in the restaurant actually understands what’s going on, because it happens automatically.”