Most, if not all, reputable dining establishments particularly restaurants pride themselves on efficient, courteous, and friendly wait service delivered by waiters and servers. Many even encourage their chefs to interact with the customers for a stronger provider-customer relationship. Even fast-food joints, such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s, train their cashiers and servers to deliver fast food delivery services to their customers.
But there’s a new trend in the food industry – food delivered with little to no human interaction, known as impersonal service. Customers browse the menu, order their food, and get their orders without interacting with a single staff member in the restaurant.
Food Served in Cubbies
One of the recent restaurants to embrace the trend is Eatsa, a quinoa restaurant in San Francisco. Customers browse the restaurant’s flat-screen monitor displaying the menu consisting of eight types of quinoa bowls (e.g., burrito, balsamic beet, and bento) priced at $6.95 each. After deciding on their orders, diners tap their preferences on an iPad, customize the food bowls, and pay for the food.
When the order for a customer has been assembled, his/her name flashes on another screen with a number that corresponds to the cubby where the food will soon appear. With just two taps on the cubby, he/she can get the food inside the cubby.
The cubbies are located behind transparent white LCD screens, which go black when the ordered food is deposited and placed for the customer. There are no other signs of human involvement – except, of course, when customers decide to socialize with each other.
According to David Friedberg, Eatsa’s founder, his establishment is more of a food delivery system than a restaurant. His vision for Eatsa: Make it almost fully automated – no waiters, no order takers behind a counter, and no busboys. While there are people who prepare the food now, he plans to fully automate the food preparation process, too, especially when automation means lower expenses than human employment.
And herein lies the rub. The opinions are divided about the full automation of restaurant services.
For optimists, the increasing level of automation will result in more effective and efficient food delivery services while also reducing overall operations costs. Customers will benefit in terms of faster service and lower prices that, in turn, will encourage more restaurants to adopt the automation process.
For pessimists, the automation process can contribute to the employment woes of the country. Machines stealing the jobs of people can result in more people being unemployed, per their rationale, which can mean less people able to purchase from restaurants.
For misanthropes, the points of view of both sides are less important than the possibility of lesser interactions with humans. Even people who are in too much of a hurry to interact with cashiers and servers will appreciate the automated process.
Both sides have their merits but it must be said that the impact on the economy with the automation trend in restaurants is another story. Restaurants from fast-food joints to five-star establishments have traditionally been places where low-skilled workers are most likely to find employment. Jobs range from the low-visibility dishwashers to the high-visibility waiters, chefs and receptionists, many of which can be made moot with automation.
But letting machines steal people’s jobs was not the motivation for Eatsa’s automation. Mr. Friedberg asserts that the automation reflects the impact of technology particularly in the complete rethinking of how people order and enjoy their food.
Emphasis must be made, too, that automation has transformed and continues to transform every industry. Starting in the Industrial Revolution, businessmen have substituted machines for human labor in the interest of cost efficiency, results effectiveness, and worker safety. Many of the automation processes have actually benefited workers especially in terms of keeping their limbs and life safe.
Examples of automation include robots and artificial intelligence machines in the healthcare, automation, and finance industries. Even the transportation industry with its self-driving vehicles will be transformed in the foreseeable future. The food industry has also adopted automation in food and beverage production, a must considering the millions of products that must be manufactured for the voracious appetite of the mass market.
In the restaurant industry, automation has been applied in rudimentary forms. Many restaurants including fast-food joints take online reservations and orders, accept online payments and credit card swipes, and deliver orders made through dedicated apps, as is the case for IHOP’s online ordering system. Chains like Chili’s use tablet computer for orders and payments, which result in faster order processing and lower manpower costs.