Restaurant operators are turning to robots as labor shortage drags on

Technology

Robotics and automation are more affordable now than they once were, and with more people questioning whether or not they want to be involved in the food services industry due to unstable schedules and relatively low wages, there might be no better time than the present for restaurant operators to further test the waters.

For better or for worse, the pandemic has impacted nearly every facet of modern life. Nowhere is that more evident than in the food services industry.

In just over a year and a half, virtually everything has changed as it relates to food. Online grocery shopping has finally started to gain traction. Many fast food joints closed their lobbies, turning instead to takeout or delivery to keep the lights on. Others that weren’t able or willing to adapt often went out of business.

All of the turmoil has wreaked havoc on the job market, and as The Wall Street Journal reports, it’s forcing yet another rethink by restaurants and executives.

White Castle last year started testing a robotic fry cooker at select locations. “Flippy,” from Miso Robotics, operates 23 hours a day at the Merrillville, Indiana, White Castle – it gets one hour of downtime a day for cleaning. The company is so happy with the bot’s performance that it is planning to bring it to 10 additional restaurants across the country.

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there were more than 1.4 million job openings in the accommodation and food services sector as of May 2021. That’s more than double the number from a year earlier.

Indeed, with so many unfulfilled jobs and the pandemic still looming, even more restaurants and fast food establishments are willing to experiment with replacing human labor with robots. And the cost isn’t nearly as much of a factor as it once was.

“The 17-year-old fry cook isn’t expensive labor, but the 17-year-old becomes expensive labor if he or she doesn’t show up for work,” said, Ruth Cowan, an expert in kitchen automation.