Robots are coming to commercial kitchens.
Depending on your perspective, it’s either exciting or terrifying. Or for some people, it’s both at the same time.
Here are some of the latest developments:
- McDonald’s is designing voice-activated drive-throughs and robotic deep-fryers as the burger giant works to streamline its menu and operations to speed up service.
- There’s a US$30,000 robotic fry chef that can cook french fries (and a US$77,000 burger flipper). The company behind the products raised US$10 million in funding to build the robotic fryers, burger flippers as well as automated beverage makers and dispensers.
- In 2019, the global cooking robotics market generated was worth US$86 million and is expected to be worth $322 million by 2028.
Kitchen robotics and automation potentially represent a new way for restaurant businesses to become more efficient, deliver a more consistent end product and save money on labor costs.
While this might all seem a bit Sci-Fi, any new product innovation promising efficiency gains and consistent quality is something a prudent restaurant owner or manager should look at.
So, are kitchen robots and automations ready for mass adoption in the restaurant industry, and should you be spending any time looking at it?
For any new product or technology to be ready for mass adoption, it needs to be desirable, viable and feasible. Once this hurdle is met, the effort of going through the change needs to be well and truly worth it. For example:
- Are people dissatisfied with the current state?
- Is there a clear vision for a better future state?
- Is there a clear plan to transition to the future state?
- Are the benefits of changing worth all the effort?
Let’s start by assessing desirability, viability and feasibility to see whether we even need to consider whether the change is worth it.
Desirability of Kitchen Robotics
Do restaurant owners, managers and employees want robotic cooking assistance in their restaurant kitchens?
I believe there will be two camps on this one. Probably split 50/50 right down the middle. One half of owners, managers and employees will consider a restaurant kitchen augmented by robotics. The other half will be a hard “no” to robotics, believing in the human touch. Overall, there will be enough stakeholders that will consider robotics in the restaurant to make a market.
Viability of Kitchen Robotics
When looking at the costs and benefits, do kitchen robots currently provide a reliable return on investment to restaurant owners?
Based on our example earlier in this post, the cost of buying or leasing a robotic fryer is around $30,000, excluding operating costs. For the average restaurant with $250,000 revenue and a 10% margin, this would eliminate a year's worth of profits. Robotics are currently too expensive compared to the alternative, a human cook who can be used for multiple activities in the kitchen.
Feasibility of Kitchen Robotics
Is the underlying technology proven and does the overall robotics system work in such a way that it can be easily incorporated into an existing restaurant operation?
Being the combination of cameras, robotic arms and software programs, the technology exists and is starting to be proven out on a small scale. However the overall system is not yet proven at scale, and it is difficult to forecast how robotics will integrate into the rest of the restaurant operations, and the impact breakdowns and maintenance will have on the system. For now, a restaurant using this technology would be an early adopter and it is not yet reliable enough with enough data to show that it is feasible in smaller restaurants.
As you can see, one pass and two fails.
In my assessment the conditions are not currently present to believe that kitchen robots are ready to be considered by the mass market.
The hurdle is not yet met to consider whether the effort of selecting, installing and running kitchen robots is worthwhile to your operation and the time is probably better spent elsewhere.
Let the big restaurant chains take all the risk investing in perfecting the technology first. Fast follow them when it’s already battle tested.
In short, kitchen robots and automation are currently too early, too expensive and too unproven for the average restaurant to spend any time on.
Keep focusing on your core, and getting better and better at service customers and core business operations every day, month and year.
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