When you hear of AI and restaurants, your mind may immediately imagine a frustrating experience with an automated cashier at a McDonald’s, repeating for the eleventh time that you want a Quarter Pounder, not a “Quart of Powerade.”
Rest assured, this is not quite what we are talking about when we say that AI will be revolutionizing the restaurant industry in the next decade.
And it is not all robots, either, though Miso Robotics’ burger-flipping robot Flippy has been implemented in a good deal of White Castles across the world. That’s right, those sliders you inhaled the last time you visited that burger palace might have been partially prepared by a robot.
And that is a robot that is much more efficient than a human fry cook, as it can work 23 hours a day, with one hour off for cleaning and other maintenance.
Now, the above sentence encapsulates one of the anxieties that surrounds the widespread implementation of AI in the food industry, which is that it will cause massive job losses for human workers.
Though experts have predicted that approximately 80% of a restaurant kitchen’s tasks could be automated with suitable and efficient AI agents, this does not necessarily mean that a massive job loss is in place for food industry workers.
The main goal here is to make the workings of a kitchen much more efficient and fast-paced, and to leave the most complex, better-get-a-human tasks for the, well, human workers.
It is also important to note that most AI agents are programmed for very narrow goals, such as flipping a patty, so workers are not going to be rubbing elbows with jack-of-all-trade biped super chefs made of cold steel. Rather, AI will better resemble a very sophisticated tool to assist with certain tasks.
That being said, Flippy can make 17 types of foods, and that number may increase as developers continue to perfect this bot. Versatility is a goal of developers, but doing a great, if not perfect job in the kitchen is the number one priority when designing AI kitchen assistants.
Yet, an in industry that has been actually suffering from a lack of workers, the inclusion of AI in the kitchen is welcome for many employers and employees alike. Although we are increasingly approaching the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, having kiosks that customers order from instead of close-proximity human workers helps cut down on spreading COVID, and the increase in online orders has been handled well by machine learning algorithms that can process a mass of orders without getting overwhelmed.
Automation can be relatively cheap compared to human labor as well, with many food-service robots able to be leased to a restaurant for under $10,000 per month, a bargain considering these robots can work uninterrupted 23-ish-hour shifts day in and day out. You can expect those prices to go down as companies like Miso continue to find cheaper ways to develop their AI assistants.
Whether it is dispensing cereal or serving drinks or a non-physical task like processing online orders, different restaurants have different needs, yet all of them can enjoy the consistency and reliability of a cost-efficient AI implementation in their kitchen.
Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, fast food or fine dining, knows that when things get busy, you cannot have enough hands to help, so the implementation of a bot that will immediately get to work on cooking certain orders leaves human workers more time for tasks like taking more orders, bagging food, and other such activities.
And, these AI agents know how to optimize as well, as they have been shown to prioritize cooking food in the order that best serves customer satisfaction.
The future of AI kitchens will be something to behold, and it may indeed cause a good deal of job losses (like we mentioned, it has been predicted that 80% of kitchen services can be automated). At a certain point, “ghost kitchens” where no humans lurk in the kitchen of a White Castle may be coming upon is in the next few decades.
The upshot, however, is that the American workforce will likely consist of more skilled workers in response to these advancements in technology.
It may be that one day, a robot arm that flips patties will be seen as commonplace as a microwave oven. And that day may be here sooner than you’d think.