In late May, the National Restaurant Association held its first trade show since 2019 in Chicago. It was so great to see old friends, make new friends and see how far the industry has advanced since the last show. I have been going to the National Restaurant Association show since I was 21, and I have never seen the industry innovate so quickly as I did this year. There are such great products, incredible equipment and new services being offered to the industry.
However, if you were to ask me to wrap up the show in a single word it would be ROBOTS!
Why the Advance In Robot Technology?
I believe that the combination of COVID-19 and the long-term restaurant shutdowns have advanced this technology forward by 10 years. Were robots on their way? Absolutely. However, the lack of workers in the industry as a result of the shutdowns has quickened the pace of the introduction of robots into the hospitality industry.
If I had introduced the idea of adding robots to my clients’ operations in 2019, I would have had zero interest. But in 2022, more than half of my customers are looking at making robots part of their team this year or next.
Are Robots Replacing Employees?
I had the honor of speaking with one of my state senators last week, and we talked about this advancing technology. Her opinion was that it is sad to see robots/technology replacing employees. I would have agreed with her in 2019, but today, I believe that these robots and other advancements are not replacing anyone. They are filling the positions that people are no longer interested in.
I recently opened two restaurants, one in Illinois and one in Indiana. Both had planned on being open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. We have been trying to fill positions for four months. There have been many days where we had 10 interviews set up and confirmed the night before, only to have no one show up at all. At this point, both restaurants are open for dinner only five nights a week.
Can these robots make the difference? Absolutely! I am working on the schedule now that could allow both of these operations to open for lunch and dinner five days per week. That brings us much closer to our goals and we will do it with a far lower labor cost.
The Significance of Robots in the Workplace
The most interesting and important robot at the show, in my opinion, is the one that can make pizzas by itself without any human support until the pizza comes out of the oven.
Conceivably, this robot could substantially cut the labor costs in a pizza operation today. However, I’m quite sure that soon this robot will be smaller, smarter and faster and will have the ability and agility to do far more than this model. Again, you could argue that this is taking away jobs from the local economy. However, with no one applying for or filling those jobs, what options do owners have?
What is the Financial Impact of Robots in Operations Today?
It comes down to simple math, and I’ll give you two geographic examples of the financial impact that a robot can make today. I have a client who is going to put in one robot that we saw at the NRA show. This robot will be used as a “runner” to deliver food from the kitchen to the dining room. The math below does not include the increased productivity of servers, the savings of workers’ comp, 401k’s and other employee taxes. In addition, the robot will never quit, get sick or decide to go to a friend’s party rather than come in to work.
- Two runners per day each working six-hour shifts seven days per week at $7.25 per hour (state minimum wage) over the period of one year = $31,668. The cost of one robot is $700 per month or $8,400 per year or a total annual savings of $23,268.
- Two runners per day each working six-hour shifts seven days per week at $14 per hour (state minimum wage) over the period of one year = $65,520. The cost of one robot is $700 per month or $8,400 per year or a total annual savings of $57,120.
The introduction of robots in the hospitality workplace makes me very sad, but I am a realist. If we can’t get human employees to work, then robots are not replacing anyone. They are the only option left to restaurant owners who want to stay open and stay profitable.