Industry experts tend to consider three variables when considering the future of restaurant automation:
- The industry labor market
- Customer views toward robots
- Industry investment in technology
A key driver toward increased usage of restaurant robotics is the post-pandemic food service worker shortage, and there doesn't seem to be any obvious improvements in sight. One of the key findings in the National Restaurant Association's recent report is that a majority of restaurant operators surveyed expect the "labor shortage" to extend into at least 2023. Despite wages for food-service workers increasing to $18.09 on average in December, some industry leaders predict the current labor conditions will stay permanently.
Current consumers' acceptance of restaurant robotics appears mixed. Anecdotal evidence from owners using robots suggests they are popular with diners, although this may still be overly influenced by the novelty factor. Research by Technomic found more than 50% of consumers said they would prefer to have their food served by human staff, while a different survey found 54% have no problems ordering from a partially or fully automated kitchen. Given the broader consumer acceptance of automation in other sectors, many industry experts are confident restaurants will have a similar experience.
Around half of U.S. restaurant operators plan to deploy robotics technology in the next two to three years, while Emergen Research estimates the global food tech market will reach $342 billion by 2027. Lower costs have helped stimulate investment, as restaurant robotics stand to benefit from improvements in artificial intelligence (AI), edge computing and similar technology. However, a recent EMSI report found the industries already most invested in robotics (automotive, electronics and metal) are still the ones driving the market.
The above factors will help determine whether visions of restaurants where the only humans present are diners come true or if the future is a hybrid approach combining robots and staff each performing roles they are best accustomed to. Regardless, it is clear that restaurant automation and restaurant robotics are part of the present, and future, of the industry.
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The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.