More than 80 percent of restaurant jobs, including cooking, serving and prepping, could be potentially be taken over by automation, according to restaurant consulting firm Aaron Allen & Associates.
Pizza Magazine was first to report on this, writing:
Aaron Allen & Associates shared a graphic proposing that 82 percent of restaurant positions could be automated. The majority of them, or 51 percent, would be server positions. Fifty-seven percent of fast-food and counter workers (or 3.2 million) could be replaced, and the same goes for 38 percent of waiters and waitresses. Twenty-one percent of cooking and food prep positions also could be automated, the company asserts.
Factors that could drive this widespread adoption of automation include continued labor shortage issues for restaurants and the COVID-19 pandemic.
We write about food robots a lot here at The Spoon, and while that 82 percent number is certainly daunting, it’s not completely surprising. Prior to the pandemic, sufficient staffing was an issue for restaurants as many potential workers preferred driving for Uber or doing some other form of gig work that allowed them to set up their own hours.
Thanks to the pandemic, the U.S. is dealing with massive amounts of unemployment, so finding people to work may not be as big an issue in the short term (though there is a debate about workers making more money via the stimulus than at their job). But the bigger problem now is the number of restaurants closing down dine in operations or shuttering altogether, reducing the number of jobs in the industry overall.
COVID accelerated the push towards off-premises dining, which requires a different kind of staffing set up. You don’t need servers if there are no customers sitting at tables to serve. And if a dining room is open, there will be fewer people eating in it to accommodate social distancing.
But even then, COVID has us re-thinking the amount of human-to-human contact as we get our food. We won’t know what the lasting impact of the pandemic on our psyche will be, but there is a good chance we will be more wary of strangers and more cognizant of the number of people who touch our food.
This is another reason why we could see more robots in restaurants. Already, a number of companies like Bear Robotics, Keenon Robotics, and Pudu Technology make server robots that can autonomously shuttle food and empty dishes back and forth from the kitchen. Then there is Flippy from Miso Robotics, which can grill burgers and work the deep fryer. White Castle recently announced that it was piloting Flippy at one of its Chicago locations. There’s also Picnic robots, which can assemble 200 pizzas in an hour.
There have always been deep societal concerns around automation, especially within the restaurant industry, which in addition to be a career many people are passionate about, also serves as an accessible first job for lots of different people. Robots taking more than 80 percent of those jobs will have massive ramifications for the country, the labor force and our collective future.
Now the coronavirus is upending those conversations. There are still issues around equity and the ability for people to find work and training if a robot takes their job, but there is the added wrinkle of what is economical for restaurants to stay in business and what people are comfortable with in their dining experiences.