How long will it be before robots replace humans in restaurants?
Visitors to mom-and-pop restaurant Mala HotPot won’t have to worry about their waiter having a mask or not; the Central Ohio restaurant’s new server is a robot.
Mala HotPot’s has deployed a $13,000 table service robot in the interest of limiting human-to-human contact for visitors, according to This Week. Visitors to the restaurant can download a digital menu onto their smartphones or tablets to place orders directly with the bar or kitchen. As Mala’s is a cook-at-the-table restaurant, the kitchen staff receives the orders and stages prepared vegetables, meat and tofu on the robot’s shelves. The robot retrieves the items and seeks out the correct table automatically. Diners accept their ingredients and cook them on small in-table burners. Only stock for cooking the hotpots, because it is kept at a high temperature, is delivered to tables by human staff.
The foodservice space has seen a great deal of development in the way of digital automation in recent years, both robotic and otherwise.
Back in 2016, burger chain Caliburger began implementing robotic burger chef Flippy in some of its restaurants and has expanded the use of the robot since then.
Just this winter, an upgraded version of Flippy capable of cooking and preparing 19 foods came to market with a $30,000 price tag, according to SingularityHub.
Other startups have rolled out customer-facing, Rube Goldberg-type robotic assembly lines capable of building burgers without a human chef and touch screen-driven, next-gen vending machines for putting together complex coffee and salad orders without human involvement.
The dining area of restaurants had likewise experienced some digital transformation in the years preceding the pandemic. McDonald’s, Panera Bread and others have implemented touch-screen ordering kiosks at their locations.
Digital transformation in foodservice, as in retail, has not been without its critics. Some have pointed to the potential for robots and AI to replace laborers at scale, meaning cost savings for businesses but potential joblessness for many low-wage workers.
A 2016 report by the Obama Administration warned that 62 percent of low-wage workers could find their jobs threatened by robotic replacement, according to Business Insider.
- Table Talk: Souped-up robots deliver food at Mala HotPot – This Week
- Can baristas keep up with their robotic challengers? – RetailWire
- A New and Improved Burger Robot’s on the Market—and Everyone Wants One – Singularity Hub
- Obama just warned Congress about robots taking over jobs that pay less than $20 an hour – Business Insider
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see using robots for table service in restaurants as a use case that will succeed? Where do you expect to see restaurants making their automation and robotics investments in the coming years?