Robots Relieve Restaurant Workers of Small, Mundane, Tedious Tasks

(p. A1) John Miller, chief executive and founder of CaliBurger LLC, finds it harder to find employees these days. His solution is Flippy, a robot that turns the burgers and cleans the hot, greasy grill.

The chain plans to install Flippy in up to ten of its 50 restaurants by year end. CaliBurger doesn’t intend to kick humans to the curb as a result. Flippy will handle the gruntwork, freeing employees to tidy the dining rooms and refill drinks, less arduous work that might make it easier to recruit and retain workers.

“We’re a long way from teaching a robot to walk the restaurant and do those things,” Mr. Miller said.

Experts have warned for years that robots will replace humans in restaurants. Instead, a twist on that prediction is unfolding. Amid the lowest unemployment in years, fast-food restaurants are turning to machines—not to get rid of workers, but because they can’t find enough.

. . .

(p. A10) Dunkin’ conducted focus groups with former employees to pinpoint the mundane tasks that made them want to leave and geared automation around that.

Workers used to create thousands of hand-written labels daily for everything from coffee to cheese expirations. Last year, Dunkin’ installed small terminals that print out expiration times.

Brewing a single pot involved grinding and weighing coffee and comparing its fineness and coarseness to a perfect sample. Now, some Dunkin’ shops use digital refractometers to determine if coffee meets specifications.

. . .

Alexandra Guajardo, the morning shift leader at a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Corona, Calif. said she’s likely to stick with the job longer now than she otherwise would have.

“I don’t have to constantly be worried about other smaller tasks that were tedious,” she said. “I can focus on other things that need my attention in the restaurant.”

Mr. Murphy said he can’t see a time when a Dunkin’ Donuts shop is fully automated. The company experimented with a robot barista nearly two years ago at an innovation lab in Massachusetts. The robot did fine at making simple drinks, but couldn’t grasp custom orders, such as “light sugar.”

The machine also required a lot of cleaning and maintenance, and at up to $100,000 per robot, Mr. Murphy said he couldn’t see a return on the investment.

For the full story, see:

Julie Jargon and Eric Morath. “Short of Workers, Robots Man the Grill.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 25, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 24, 2018, and the title “Short of Workers, Fast-Food Restaurants Turn to Robots.”)

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