Flying in the face of the claim of being “the best first job in America,” burger chains and other fast food eateries are on the brink of replacing young workers with machines. Labor costs (especially the fight for a higher minimum wage) and shrinking profits are driving changes. Specifically, the strategic move is to deploy self-service kiosks and burger-flipping robots at such places as Wendy’s and McDonalds. Both of these fast food outlet have announced some tech-driven strategies aimed at improving the bottom line.
Drawing the most attention in this area is Miso Robotics’ “Flippy,” a kitchen assistant equipped with a camera, sensor and AI software. It can cook a hamburger to a perfect temperature by flipping it at predetermined intervals. The machine is built to place the hamburger on a bun and even work collaboratively with human workers. The human worker can pitch in by adding toppings and wrapping the food for service.
Miso Robotics joins other companies such as Chowbotics. This company, by creating a robot (the size of a dorm refrigerator), can make a salad, eliminating the need for salad bars and often inaccurate hand-made greenery orders. Wanting to own the entire process, San Francisco’s Momentum Machines is in the process of opening its own retail location featuring its robotic technology that can crank out 400 custom burgers an hour.
Flippy is scheduled to be implemented in 2018 by CaliBurger, a chain with locations in California, Washington State, Washington D.C., Canada, Mexico, China, Kuwait, Malaysia and other spots around the world. The first implementation of Flippy with be at a CaliBurger outlet in Los Angeles.
“We take into account all of our customers’ needs for everything from food safety to maximum uptime,” Miso Robotics CEO David Zito told CNBC. “Today our software allows robots to work at a grill, doing some of the nasty and dangerous work that people don’t want to do all day. But these systems can be adapted so that robots can work, say, standing in front of a fryer or chopping onions. These are all areas of high turnover, especially for quick service restaurants.”
If you marry robotic technology, cloud computing, and keen market awareness, the result is Zume Pizza, a San Francisco startup rewriting the rules in food delivery. In a recent Smart Kitchen Show podcast, Zume’s co-founder Julia Collins explained some of the “secret sauce” that separates her company from other tech-enabled food delivery players.
The process, Collins said, is what she calls a “co-bot” culture where tasks are divided between robots and humans where repetitive and dangerous tasks such as making perfectly shaped dough balls and taking a pie in and out of an 800-degree oven are handled by robots. The more artisanal parts of the process are tackled by humans.
Zume’s delivery service stand alone in the market by deploying carefully designed pizza wagons that take partially cooked pizzas and, using predictive analytics, provides a movable storefront where pies can be sent to areas based on demand and data-driven factors such as holidays. The concept is a logistics marvel that breaks the mold of needing to open multiple storefronts to serve a wide geographic area.
Doing an 180 from its campaign touting its role in lives of first-time workers, McDonald’s is using technology to cut down on the number of counter staff it employs. McDonald’s claims its new service-service, touchscreen ordering kiosks—which it will add to 2,500 of its restaurants—won’t eliminate cashier jobs but instead move those workers to more customer-service positions such as concierges.
“MCD is cultivating a digital platform through mobile ordering and Experience of the Future (EOTF), an in-store technological overhaul most conspicuous through kiosk ordering and table delivery,” Andrew Charles of analyst firm Cowen told Wall Street Investors.
The new technology will cost each franchisee between $150,000 and $700,000 with the parent company picking up an undisclosed part of the tab.