Robotic technology has been creeping into restaurant operations for sometime now. With COVID, and amid an ongoing national labor crisis, operators have become more willing to explore how robotics can help ease the BOH and FOH human workload or supplement their workforce altogether.
Panda Express recently unveiled their Panda Auto Wok, or PAW, a technology that is already operating at over 120 stores to date. The brand says the PAW will help ease the physical burden of wok-cooking bulky items at high volume restaurants with just a single skilled chef to oversee the process.
At Kura Sushi, robots are already front and center in dining rooms delivering drinks and condiments to guests. The robots, or Kurabots, are on the move at all 37 of the brand’s locations. The Kurabots join an extensive lineup of technology innovations employed by the sushi chain including: robot chefs, a revolving sushi bar, and self-service tablets. Kura says these technology advancements have helped the brand recover losses from the pandemic and propel strong sales growth. CEO Hajime “Jimmy” Uba explained in a Q2 call that the aim is retention and attraction for employees by a reduced workload.
At Thanx, we believe technology is a tool to augment or supplement hospitality without taking the place of humans. For marketing, that can mean using loyalty platforms to better know your customers and personalize engagement at scale. For operations, it can mean leveraging robot technology to automate tasks to give human staff more bandwidth to focus on offering better experiences for customers.
But it’s not just operators in the restaurant space that are dipping their toes into robotic waters. GrubHub also recently announced a partnership with Cartken to bring delivery robots to college campuses. Stakeholders say the goal of collaboration is “friction-free and environmentally sustainable delivery.” However, it’s no secret that 3PD delivery companies like GrubHub have had their fair share of friction themselves with respect to their human workforce. With recent pressures on 3PD to tighten the purse-strings, one has to wonder if the push to robotics is motivated more by financial sustainability than environmental – since a robot cannot ask for a raise, file a lawsuit, or demand better working conditions… at least not yet.