Restaurant Robotization is a Glamorized Solution to Labor Shortages

Madelyn Streisfeld - Teen Aspect - June 25th, 2022
A robot delivers meals to customers at a Sergio’s Restaurant in Miami, Florida (Martinez, 2021)

Dining has become increasingly automated, between the use of contactless ordering via QR codes and app-based delivery services. These high-tech experiences have drastically shifted the American labor landscape as well, as we morph from restaurants that rely heavily on the existence of waiter, busboy, and host jobs to others that conduct the ordering process entirely on screens.


In response to the labor shortage brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and still looming over the American economy today, finding solutions to decrease the number of employees needed in restaurants at a given time isn’t a poor concept.

However, if the labor shortage eventually morphs into an unemployment crisis, robotization may come at the expense of the teenagers who made up approximately 24% of the restaurant workforce at the end of 2021 (Black Box Intelligence), not to mention the nearly 4.5 million Americans employed in the industry as of 2020 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).


In South Florida, Sergio’s Family Restaurants serve as an example of how robotic technology is being implemented. Using their robot ASTRO (Automated Service Tray Removal Organizer) created by industry-specialized company Bear Robotics, plates can be delivered to and cleared from tables with startling efficiency.

As Sergio’s CEO Carlos Gazitua tells Gordon Food Service, “The robots represent innovation built on a tier of desperation.”


With automation also comes speed, thereby increasing the number of tables that can be seated in a given day or the amount of orders that can be taken. Miso Robotics, which creates kitchen assistants, notes that bots such as the Flippy used by White Castle to operate fryers have led to a growth in restaurant output by up to 30 percent (Olmer, 2022).


But it becomes paradoxical, for robots can benefit restaurant employees by maximizing profit while simultaneously restricting opportunities for hiring. Automation becomes an aid to only the few who are actually employed.

CNBC’s Kate Rogers notes that as restaurant employees are replaced by robots, job opportunities in the engineering field will expand in order to build those robots (2021). However, the qualifications for fulfilling a hospitality role are drastically different, and for some, furthering education in STEM is economically or demographically inaccessible.


Robotic systems are also prone to making mistakes, which cannot be excused in a fast-paced environment. Particularly in urban areas where 9.8% of children live with food allergies (Food Safety News, 2012), not being able to communicate with a human staff member about dietary needs can potentially be life-threatening. Many of the existing automated dining services fail to accommodate substitutions or feature a space to note allergies, leaving individuals who are on restrictive diets with limited options for dining out.


As we progressively transition to automated systems in dining establishments, it is imperative to note that they are not a fool-proof solution to labor crises, for they come with their own disadvantages. We must weigh convenience and efficiency alongside the potential effects on the American workforce. The United States may be one of the most technologically advanced countries, but we cannot implement new, computerized resources until we first understand how to manage our human ones.


References

Goetz, G. (2012, June 18). Child food allergies more common in urban areas, study finds. Food Safety News. Retrieved from https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/06/child-food-allergies-more-common-in-urban-areas-study-finds/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20study%2C%209.8,number%20drops%20to%206.2%20percent.

Gordon Food Service. (n.d.) Success story: Florida restaurant’s robots explore a new frontier. Gordon Food Service. Retrieved from https://www.gfs.com/en-us/ideas/success-story-florida-restaurants-robots-explore-new-frontier

Kelso, A. (2021, December 2). Study: Teens make up nearly a quarter of limited-service restaurant workforce. Restaurant Dive. Retrieved from https://www.restaurantdive.com/news/study-teens-make-up-nearly-a-quarter-of-limited-service-restaurant-workfor/610830/

Olmer, V. (2022, May 7). Miso Robotics automates fast food and turns profits. Newsweek. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/sponsored/miso-robotics-automates-fast-food-turns-profits#:~:text=for%20the%20business.-,The%20company%20boasts%20that%20its%20kitchen%20assistants%20have%20helped%20restaurants,try%20out%20Flippy%20in%202020.

Rogers, K. (2021, October 22). Restaurants prep for long-term labor crunch by turning to robots to work the fryer, shuttle food to tables. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/22/restaurants-looking-for-labor-and-speed-turn-to-robots-.html

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022, May 16). Food and beverage serving and related workers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/food-and-beverage-serving-and-related-workers.htm

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