“In a properly automated and educated world, then, machines may prove to be the true humanizing influence. It may be that machines will do the work that makes life possible and that human beings will do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile.” – Isaac Asimov, Robot Visions
It’s true. Automation has proven time and time again that it can improve one’s quality of life. And when you’re talking about business, the benefits are undeniable.
- Streamlined operations
- Greater productivity
- Increased consistency
- Higher quality output
- Reduced labor costs
- Improved safety
- More control over productivity
- Better business insights
- And more
Automation is nothing new. Whether it was on Ford’s assembly lines or in today’s grocery store self-checkouts, humans have always found a way to develop machines to make their jobs easier. For many industries, automation is widely encouraged and accepted. For others though, fear and hesitation arise when presented with the idea of replacing human tasks and jobs with machines.
Fear of the Known
Let’s take the restaurant industry, for example. It makes sense why businesses of this nature would be so averse to automation.
A huge part of a restaurant’s identity and success rides on their hospitality, right? And machines, if anything, are typically associated with the opposite of that—they’re cold, impersonal, and detached. The logic would stand then that if restaurants allow machines to take over customer engagement and service interactions, their business identity and focus would consequently need to be reconsidered (and restructured).
For an industry incurring a whole host of rising food and labor costs right now, further disruption to their operations is the last thing they want to think about. Perhaps customers would be content entering their own orders on a touchscreen. The process would be quicker and customers would have more flexibility and control over making customizations.
But all this automation could also mean more costs for restaurants, not just to purchase or rent equipment for their stores, but also to revise internal processes and retrain their staff. And then there’s the loyalty aspect to consider. Where will customers draw their loyalty from if they’re being serviced by machines? And why should employees feel loyal to a business if most of the labor is entrusted to machines?
For some restaurants, automation will work really well. Take the San Francisco-based Eatsa. Their storefront is fully-automated and, save for a single human concierge, customers never have to directly deal with anyone in order to place or retrieve an order. Here’s why this particular restaurant has done so well with automation:
- They’re located in busy professional districts around San Francisco.
- They provide a fast and convenient healthy food solution.
- Since opening, their entire business model has been wrapped around the idea of self-service, which means it’s fully ingrained in their identity as a company.
Here’s the thing though: A fully automated restaurant is a wonderful solution for curbing growing costs. But the circumstances have to be just right.
So what do the smaller, independent restaurateurs do? Or the restaurants that offer an upscale dining environment? Or the restaurants that aren’t located in a thriving metropolis? These sorts of business models aren’t going to necessarily lend themselves well to full-service kiosks and an ordering process controlled by the customer. In these cases, automation—at least in the front of the house—just doesn’t fit.
Striking a Balance
Automation is the wave of the future, there’s no doubt about that, and it is the key to restaurant survival. Businesses that are unwilling to innovate or streamline their operations through some form of automation can expect a more grim and short-lived future than those that are willing to.
So where does that leave an industry that has often struggled with adopting new technology—whether it be too costly of an adjustment, too disruptive to their operations, or not in line with their promise of hospitality?
Costs are rising—food costs, labor costs, and operational costs—and restaurateurs are scrambling to find a solution to counter them. Full automation of the FOH is often proposed, but, as we’ve seen above, it isn’t a feasible solution for a lot of business models. Removing tips and raising menu prices has also been suggested, though many restaurants that tested out the “Hospitality Included” policy this year have since backed out due to backlash from customers and employees.
Most restaurant operators need to find a way to make automation work for them, and it doesn’t mean replacing the FOH workforce with a fleet of self-service kiosks or trading customer loyalty for cost savings. If they want to prevent their operations from bleeding money in the face of upcoming industry changes, it’s time now to discover the type of automation that will work best for them.
Customer demographics, restaurant type, food sourcing, franchise partnerships, location, and many other factors will need to be taken into consideration when determining what sort of automation to use. In the end, it’ll come down to which ones:
- Fit best,
- Keep customers and employees happy,
- And won’t rock the boat too much for that particular restaurant.
If you’d like help getting started, let Better Chains help you bring more control and automation to your restaurant operations.