A big reason we write about food robots so much (and built an entire conference around them), can be summed up in this stat: Panera loses nearly 100 percent of its workforce over the course of a year — and that number is actually considered pretty good for the QSR industry.
CNBC has a fascinating and in-depth look at how it’s not uncommon for fast food restaurants to lose more than 100 percent of its workers in a year. From that article:
The official Bureau of Labor Statistics turnover rate for the restaurant sector was 81.9% for the 2015–2017 period, but industry estimates are much higher, reaching 150%, and the problem has gotten worse in recent years.
How is it possible to lose 150 percent of a workforce? Because QSRs are losing not just one worker, but also the person that comes in to replace them.
CNBC outlines lots of reasons that turnover is so high: fast food jobs are so routinized as to make them disposable, low pay, no real career path, the societal reputation of having a “McJob,” and how gig economy jobs allow people to set their own schedules. You should definitely read the full article.
We wanted to highlight it here on The Spoon because in our previous coverage and fireside chats with restauranteurs and food robotics startups, we often hear these same sentiments about fast food labor — but they are delivered in pretty vague terms. Basically we are told that restaurants have a hard time hiring and keeping people, nobody wants to work at a restaurant, more people would rather drive for Uber. What CNBC’s piece does quite well is it provides some hard context around those issues with hard numbers.
Sloughing off more than 100 percent of your workforce each year is a crazy way to run a business. But this deep turnover is the reason we see so many robotics companies looking to fill that void. Brightloom (formerly Eatsa), Miso, Creator, Bear Robotics, Dishcraft, and Cafe X are just some of the companies looking to automate different parts of the restaurant workforce.
Creator is actually a good example of what could be possible for automating jobs in a QSR. It’s a restaurant built around a (delicious) cheeseburger making robot. As Creator CEO Alex Vardakostas told us, the idea is that if you take away the menial, repetitive work of flipping a burger, you can free up human workers to be more creative and ideally more fulfilled at their jobs.
Creator is just starting out and its thesis has yet to be proven at scale, but it could be a model for future QSRs. Vardakostas realizes that his employees won’t work at his restaurant forever, but he wants to make their time at Creator enriching and fulfilling. Creator employees even get “5 percent” time to learn a new skill.
While food robots and automation are going to take a certain number of human jobs in the fast food industry. Hopefully it can work to make those remaining jobs more attractive so people will stay in them longer.