Are Restaurant Robots The Solution To Staff Shortages?

Running a restaurant has never been an easy endeavor. Unfortunately, staffing shortages that began at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic haven't made business operations any easier. Restaurant Dive cites a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics stating that in August 2021 alone, more than 40,000 restaurant positions were eliminated. Due to this lack in staffing, restaurant employees who are working are burned out, and some restaurants have had to reduce their business hours.

Perhaps bringing a little light and promise of resolution to these struggles has been the introduction of robots to the restaurant industry, which are able to work both front- and back-of-the-house positions, depending on their programming. Popular Science notes that Chippy, a machine from Miso Robotics, has been tested as a Chipotle tortilla chip cooker and a Servi robot from Bear Robotics has been delivering food and conversing with customers at Rachel's Kitchen in Henderson, Nevada (via QSR Magazine).

What do staff think of restaurant robots?

Rachel's Kitchen owner Debbie Roxarzade said the restaurant was given the opportunity to give the Servi robot a two-week trial run, but it only took a week for the staff to start appreciating the robot's assistance. "It's been increasingly difficult to find staff. It's tough, it's exhausting, people are getting rick, we're constantly being thrown things we need to do," Roxarzade told QSR Magazine. "So I thought if there's anything I can do to help the team members, I want to do it ... She's [the Servi robot] helping my team member do more things and not have as much stress."

Despite the fact that robots are helping with food service staffing shortages in 2022, some have articulated the fear that robots could replace human jobs in the future when these shortages aren't occurring. But Dina Marie Zemke, an associate professor of residential property management at Ball State University, isn't so sure about that. "If they are used correctly, they'll be used to help humans, not to replace humans," Zemke said in an interview with Restaurant Business.

What do customers think of restaurant robots?

When it comes to how restaurant customers feel seeing and being served by robots in restaurants, a study has revealed these feelings are dependent on the type of restaurant. According to Restaurant Business, the study, conducted by Ball State University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas, found that in quick-service restaurants, customers largely don't care one way or the other whether they are served by fast food robots or not. When it came to fine dining establishments, however, most surveyed said they were much opposed to robots touching their food. "The term 'human touch' kept coming up over and over and over again," said Dina Marie Zemke, the lead author of the study. At Rachel's Kitchen, owner Debbie Roxarzade says their Servi robot has been popular among customers, particularly younger clientele. "People are taking videos and pictures," Roxarzade said (via QSR Magazine).

It's a good thing that robots seem to be helping and both consumers and restaurant employees are mostly on board, because Zemke seems to think that restaurant robots are here to stay. "Keeping the restaurant running in the time of COVID, where you can run a restaurant with one or two employees and a bunch of robots, I think that will become much more attractive going into the future," Zemke told Restaurant Business.