Robots in restaurants: imagining the future

A lot of experimentation is going on, business models are being tested and acceptance of a new interaction for people, both digitally and in the physical world

robot worker ts

You might think this article is based on the Jetsons, but the interesting thing is that seeing robots in public spaces isn’t that far off. The field of robotics is accelerating. We are seeing virtual robots in the form of chatbots and AI-based interactions growing. Soon, this will also be a part of your physical day-to-day interaction.

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario that isn’t too far off and an example of what is coming.

The new Starbucks experience

Imagine you feel like getting a cold brew from Starbucks, so you pop up the app on your smartphone and place your standard order at a nearby location.

As you enter, you are greeted by a friendly Starbucks employee. This is a new level of customer engagement and an opportunity to really create a distinct customer experience. The greeter might be a local expert, in case you have questions about the neighborhood, or may just guide you to where you can pick up your drink.

As you glance behind the counter, you notice a robot preparing the cold brew for you and doing so with the utmost precision.

A large screen flashes your name and lets you know your order is ready for pickup.

Mixing human greeters with robotic efficiency could be the next enhancement in customer experience (aka “cobots”). While the job of the barista might change, you can envision greeters having more time to spend with customers and growing need for delivery and setup staff that bring raw materials and ingredients to help the robots make sure they do not run out of inventory.

Another benefit of using robots to prepare the coffee is that these locations can run virtually 24x7. You can get any drink or food at any time.

You already see self-ordering and self-pay at many restaurants already, including McDonalds and Panera.

And with the aid of robots, cameras, and apps, customers can quench their thirst and the store can be monitored at all times.

In fact, a San Francisco-based company, Eatsa, has been experimenting with this. It added several locations, including New York City (but recently retrenched after its growth plan proved too aggressive).

Automated restaurant Eatsa brings tech to food

At Eatsa, you first select the meal you want and pay for it.

Then, you are notified when it is ready for pick up at a self-service locker.

Given that Eatsa retrenched, the model is obviously still in its infancy and perhaps not ready for widespread acceptance.

That question of acceptance is what will drive the momentum forward into the next phase of robotics?. In the Starbucks experience, the question is whether the greeter and local presence will make the experience better or whether the presence of robots will turn off loyal Starbucks customers.

When robots were first introduced in malls as security guards, children would gang up on the robot and beat it up until someone figured out ways for the robot to avoid kids.

This is certainly an interesting time in the world. A lot of experimentation is going on, business models are being tested and acceptance of a new interaction for people, both digitally and in the physical world. You can expect to see more of these robots coming as we look for ways to become more precise and more efficient in our business operations.

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