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November 2, 2022

This story originally appeared on Civil Eats.

In 2021, I worked in a restaurant that presented itself as the future of catering. Diners would sit down and immediately download an app to browse the menu, place their order, and pay with a credit card, all on their phones. As a server, my job was not only to make drinks and prepare food, but also to help customers navigate technology, troubleshoot when it didn’t work, and explain, repeatedly, why exactly our restaurant did things that way – and I didn’t exactly get a good response. Things could escalate quickly and customers would often leave frustrated and hungry. Some days I would come home feeling like a punching bag and an unwitting symbol of a larger cultural shift.

As in much of the world, new and ever-changing technologies are part of the lives of restaurant workers. From the COVID-19 lockdown and resulting wave of closures to recession and labor shortages, the restaurant industry has been on a rollercoaster ride over the past few years. As restaurateurs search for solutions, many are looking to automation and other technologies designed to replace humans as a silver bullet. But what does this mean for workers?

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Disrupters and the Silicon Valley Effect

As startups “disrupted” the restaurant industry, they replaced menus and handwritten orders with kitchen display systems (KDS), ordering tablets and QR codes. Tabletop tablets have also proliferated in restaurant chains like Olive Garden and Applebee’s, offering customers games to entertain children, and the ability to order desserts and appetizers. It’s yet another indication that Silicon Valley executives view restaurants as places of consumption, not connection.

While some customers rave about the idea of ​​a robot bringing their food to their table, or the efficiency of an ordering kiosk, what keeps customers coming back is the quality of food and drinks and the human relationships they establish. Family restaurants thrive after the pandemic, “the personal relationships [the customer] has established with staff and fellow diners keep them coming back,” according to one reporter.

When encountering online menus and a QR code, customers who are not comfortable with navigation technology often find themselves drawn away from the dining experience, too embarrassed to ask for help. For customers who don’t have a smartphone, it sends an unambiguous message about who owns the restaurants of the future. For servers, baristas, and other food industry employees, this can already feel like we’re competing with customer phones for basic respect.

And while digital payment systems increase tipping rates, it can be impossible to know how much of your tip will end up in the server’s hands, unlike old-fashioned cash. My colleagues tell horror stories of tip theft by owners who take up to 20% for themselves, or tipping structures where chefs or managers take deep cuts.

And when customers don’t tip, servers can end up paying out of pocket to fill a manager’s paycheck. The shift to automation has put more money in homeowners’ wallets and less in the hands of low-level workers who earn a minimum wage of $2.13 an hour in some states.

Indeed, paper menus and handwritten orders have never been the industry’s problem – it’s working conditions, wage theft and lack of benefits. And these are all problems that technology cannot solve.

“Restaurants don’t provide minimum wage or job protection. There is no paid vacation, there is no sick leave. There is no health insurance. Rather than addressing the real problem, restaurants are now looking for new ways to circumvent labor issues,” said Anthony Advincula, director of communications for Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC) United, an organization that fights for the rights of restaurant workers across the US.

Successful restaurants aren’t the ones with the latest technology, they’re the ones that invest in their people. Restaurants like Bell’s in Los Alamos, Calif., provide paid time off, living wages, and health care for their workers — and this investment in their workers has helped them succeed where many have failed.

Handing Over Our Agency to Machines

Technology has its place in restaurants – point of sale, online reservations and waitlist websites make it easier to run a restaurant. But relying on technology in a way that removes the agency of humans from the equation is hell for workers. It also often bypasses one of the central joys of the restaurant: the human connection.

Application-based services, robotic servers, and other forms of automation also often require employees to be digital interpreters. Restaurant work already comes with enough stress: drunk people, balanced plates, and following up on requests for more napkins, more ketchup, another round. Adding the stress of guiding a customer through brand new technology is a burden we shouldn’t have to bear.

And while business owners will tell you that technology saves workers time and energy, they’re the ones reaping the most benefits.

“The rise of technology in the restaurant industry is primarily about owners,” said Advincula, who points to the fact that while the “Great Resignation” has affected all industries, hospitality has been hit the hardest. .

“The restaurant industry has lost 5 million jobs,” Advincula said. “Chains like McDonald’s or Applebee’s are avoiding their responsibility to provide job protections to workers.”

Servers, dishwashers, line cooks, bartenders and chefs are already working long hours on unpredictable schedules. Women make up more than half of the workforce, and people of color and women are more likely to hold low-paying positions in industry, while white men hold the most prestigious positions and better paid, and workers of color make up more than half of backhouse employees. A third of undocumented workers in the United States work in the restaurant industry, and they often work in invisible but essential jobs.

While technology is promoted as a balm for all sorts of problems, many workers in the food industry are fighting for basic rights and dignity.

Starbucks is a good example. During the pandemic, the national coffee chain’s mobile orders skyrocketed, accounting for a quarter of all orders. The baristas I spoke to told me that mobile ordering prioritizes speed and that mobile ordering is more likely to have a lot of special requests. As any barista or line cook will tell you, these changes slow down workers when preparing drinks and meals.

The rise in mobile orders has led to burnout among baristas, who are increasingly voting to join unions, as well as other workers in the hospitality industry. Over the past two years, workers at companies ranging from distilleries and donut shops to coffee chains and fast food restaurants have successfully won unionization votes.

Several baristas I spoke with described how mobile ordering steered them towards speed and volume rather than cultivating relationships with customers. At their best, cafes provide a “third place” that fosters community and gives people a place to belong. Mobile ordering has turned many cafes into coffee vending machines.

“Management has really emphasized how Starbucks is a third place, being that space where you connect with your friends, that space between home and work where you can get together,” said Jo, a former Starbucks barista. who asked to be called by his first name. only. They worked for Starbucks in Vancouver, BC. between 2018 and 2019, with the deployment of mobile ordering in stores.

However, since the introduction of mobile ordering, Jo said customers have tended to grab their coffee and leave without interacting with staff unless there is a problem. Customers also tend to get frustrated with delays, as they assume mobile ordering will be faster and more efficient, and they pick on exhausted and overwhelmed baristas.

“These connection points get lost in mobile ordering. So it’s like, “Here’s your order, goodbye,” Jo said. “The experience is so frustrating for baristas and customers; I don’t know what it is for other than increasing profits.

Post-COVID Landscape

As we emerge from the early days of the pandemic, customers returning to restaurants are especially likely to seek human interaction. When it comes to solving complex problems, humans are much better than bots at handling customer complaints, questions, and issues related to service to the public. While a kiosk can tell you which menu items are gluten-free or vegan, it won’t be able to tell you its favorite dessert or recommend a great place to listen to live music. And for workers, moments of connection make a tough job a little easier.

As a server, I’ve seen customers struggling to communicate, awkward and nervous as they admit it’s their first time in a restaurant since the pandemic began. Technology can widen this gap and further alienate customers. And for workers, our work is often made invisible, and therefore not worth paying. When customers order through an app, for example, it can seem like servers aren’t working as hard for customers. Customers are already mostly unaware of the amount of physical and mental work it takes to run a restaurant efficiently – and technology further obscures that.

As Advincula points out, making this work invisible also makes it harder for workers to connect and makes labor rights violations less visible. This is especially true for gig economy workers delivering food for GrubHub, UberEats, and other apps. These workers spend their entire days and nights working alone, making them one of the most atomized as they struggle with health and safety issues and earn less than minimum wage.

In the case of Instacart, salaries are determined by an algorithm, putting workers at the mercy of technology more than ever. And while delivery workers in some states have organized for more rights and better pay, many are still struggling to make ends meet.

“It is increasingly difficult for workers to organize and build power,” Advincula said.

And yet, while the rise of technology to replace workers in restaurants may seem like a losing battle, there is a growing movement to improve the lives of these workers.

“Catering workers deserve safer work environments. They deserve time to heal and rest,” Advincula said. He and ROC United are advocating for a bill of rights for restaurant workers that puts humans above technology. Other organizations are advocating for the abolition of the tipped minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the Restaurant Organizing Project helps food service workers organize their restaurants, connecting them with resources and other workers. Campaigns like these offer more to workers than a tablet, QR code or robot ever will.

• Editorial: I’m a restaurant worker, not a robot [Civil Eats]

Psychologists, caregivers, most engineers, HR managers, marketing strategists and lawyers are roles that cannot be replaced by AI in the near future.”

Are restaurants using robots?

Robots have made their way into kitchens across the country as technology becomes cheaper and finding workers becomes more difficult. Chipotle, Wing Zone and White Castle are just a few of the restaurant chains investing in robotics.

Does Pizza Hut use robots? Customers selected for robotic delivery will be able to use the Pizza Hut app to track the location of the robot as they approach their order and will receive a unique, one-time PIN to pick up their order from the robot’s secure compartment.

Will restaurants become automated?

Automation has become intriguing for restaurants emerging from the pandemic as they seek to meet increased demand with fewer workers and grapple with rising wages and food costs.

Can food production be automated?

Automated equipment facilitates standardization of the food production process. Every product goes through the same procedures from start to finish. The machines are precise, which helps keep everything standard in a way that’s hard to achieve with humans.

Can restaurants be automated?

Robots are quickly becoming the new face of work in the restaurant industry. They blend smoothies, fry chicken wings and fries, mix drinks, brew coffee and pour food.

Is Mcdonald’s using robots?

Robots won’t be knocking over your burgers anytime soon, says Chris Kempczinski, CEO of McDonalds.

Is McDonald’s using AI?

As for drive-thru chains, McDonald’s recently worked with IBM to automate all of its drive-thru chains. In a sample study that observed 10 McDonald’s food joints in terms of AI automation, the results were quite successful and paved the way for full automation of McDonald’s food joints using AI. AI.

Who is makes robots for McDonald’s?

McDonald’s locations in Slovenia now use a team of robots from Pudu Robotics. In late 2021, McDonald’s Slovenia began phasing dozens of Pudu’s BellaBot robots into the workforce, to help restaurant staff serve and deliver food as well as perform other tasks.

Are robots taking over the food industry?

Robots are already taking on more laborious picking tasks and replacing staff at high speed. These machines may soon start appearing in home kitchens. However, robotic cooking and delivery are still in their infancy compared to other parts of the global food supply.

How will Ai affect the food industry?

Detection and external sensors AI systems have been integrated into machines that can intuitively detect odors and flavors for food safety and quality control as well as in-depth analysis of product composition.

Will robots replace fast food workers?

Companies such as Miso Robotics and Richtech are developing automated robots for restaurant kitchens and dining rooms. Economists say the labor challenge will be prolonged and robotics can help ease the crisis but cannot completely replace humans.

How are robots changing the restaurant industry?

Robots are more likely to support human staff – helping with tasks such as chopping ingredients or cleaning – in the same way automation tools are already being used to improve the customer experience when booking, table ordering and payment. meal.

How AI is changing the restaurant industry? Restaurants can track staff and sales data to determine trends or patterns during peak times, helping them make better strategic decisions. 7. AI can forecast inventory and demand, helping teams price certain items and stock them accordingly, to avoid waste and reduce unnecessary costs.

What will be the effect of robots in hospitality industry?

It has the potential to disrupt the customer experience as we know it and could provide powerful tools to help humans in their decision-making processes, which will impact the entire workforce of the industry. The challenge is to ensure that companies integrate AI and frontline service robots in a fair and equitable way.

How can you say that robotics has big impact in tourism and hospitality industry?

Hotels and airports are deploying robotic assistants to fundamentally change the guest experience. Tourists can ask these assistants questions, get information, and even ask them to perform key tasks, like room service. Many of these robotic assistants can also understand and communicate in multiple languages.

Which of the following is an advantage of using robots in hospitality?

Hotel robots can make check-in easier Many places such as hotels and cruise lines now use robots to check in guests. Robots reduce wait times at check-in and check-out while robots run faster than humans.

How are robots being used in the food industry?

Industrial robots are increasingly integrated in order to save time and space, as well as to improve cleanliness and safety. Food manufacturing robots are commonly used for dispensing, placing food, cutting, wrapping or crating food, picking and placing product into containers, and sorting.

How is robotic technology used in the process of food processing and packaging?

Robots are used to perform pick and place, packaging and palletizing applications in this area of ​​food manufacturing which involves three different stages: Primary – Primary packaging is the first stage and involves the packaging of individual foods.

Does Mcdonald’s use robotics?

Robots won’t be knocking over your burgers anytime soon, says Chris Kempczinski, CEO of McDonalds.

Will fast food jobs be automated?

Many jobs in the restaurant industry are monotonous and fall easy prey to automation. But for now, it appears McDonald’s and other restaurants have no plans to lay off the country’s estimated 5 million fast food workers anytime soon.

Will restaurants become automated? Automation has become intriguing for restaurants emerging from the pandemic as they seek to meet increased demand with fewer workers and grapple with rising wages and food costs.

Will robots replace fast food workers?

Companies such as Miso Robotics and Richtech are developing automated robots for restaurant kitchens and dining rooms. Economists say the labor challenge will be prolonged and robotics can help ease the crisis but cannot completely replace humans.

Are robots taking over the food industry?

Robots are already taking on more laborious picking tasks and replacing staff at high speed. These machines may soon start appearing in home kitchens. However, robotic cooking and delivery are still in their infancy compared to other parts of the global food supply.

Will chefs ever be replaced by robots?

Yes, they will help us, support us, but the role of chefs will always be alive,” said Robin Batra, Executive Chef, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts. Therefore, we can say that although robots can bring efficiency to work, cooking would still remain the domain of the chef.

Which jobs are most likely to be automated?

Today we will talk about the tasks that are likely to be fully automated in the near future.

  • Customer service. You’ve probably been greeted by an AI on some website you’ve visited. …
  • Data entry. …
  • Market research analysis. …
  • Courier services. …
  • Proofreading. …
  • Manufacturing.

What jobs are least likely to automated?

The jobs least likely to be automated by AI use soft skills such as creativity, common sense, judgment and communication. Examples include writers, lawyers, scientists, graphic designers, and software developers.

How does McDonald’s use AI?

Order prediction – McDonald’s uses machine learning-based decision technology to predict which menu offerings are most likely to drive sales in its drive-thru business.

Does McDonald’s use robots? Robots won’t be knocking over your burgers anytime soon, says Chris Kempczinski, CEO of McDonalds.

How is AI used in fast food?

Conversational AI technology can greet customers, take orders, transfer orders to point-of-sale (POS) systems, and perform other functions. In a pilot program last year, Checkers & Rally’s found that the AI ​​voice assistant had 98% accuracy in taking orders from the drive-thru and didn’t need restaurant workers to intervene.

How can fast food chains or restaurants chain use AI?

AI is also improving the driving experience as channels explore voice automation technology, where AI robots take commands from a driving stop. The concept of “smart” drive-thru parallels restaurant touchscreens and kiosks, where customers can order and pay without ever relying on human interaction.

How is AI used in restaurants?

Using AI-enabled software, restaurants can track staff and sales data to determine trends or patterns during peak (and less busy) times. Then they can outfit the restaurant appropriately for the expected traffic and sales during each shift.

How can AI help the restaurant industry?

AI helps reduce time and other costs, with more accurate and faster service through features like live tracking of every order in an app and contactless interactions at drive-ins.

How can technology improve restaurants?

7 restaurant tech trends to watch in 2022

  • Online ordering systems and delivery apps. …
  • Contactless payment. …
  • Online table reservation system. …
  • Digital kitchen “boards”…
  • Automated inventory management software. …
  • QR codes. …
  • Air purification technology.

How does artificial intelligence affect the food industry?

September 5, 2022 With improved efficiency and cost savings, AI has been effectively used for applications such as fresh produce sorting, supply chain management, food safety monitoring procedures, optimal clean-in-place systems, prediction of consumer desire and development of new products.

How can fast food chains or restaurants chain use AI?

AI is also improving the driving experience as channels explore voice automation technology, where AI robots take commands from a driving stop. The concept of “smart” drive-thru parallels restaurant touchscreens and kiosks, where customers can order and pay without ever relying on human interaction.

How does McDonald’s use AI?

Order prediction – McDonald’s uses machine learning-based decision technology to predict which menu offerings are most likely to drive sales in its drive-thru business.

What are some uses of AI in the food industry?

Here are five ways AI is transforming the food industry for the better:

  • Develop new recipes guided by consumer trends. …
  • Better supply chain management. …
  • A more efficient cleaning process. …
  • More hygienic production lines. …
  • Sorting of food.