Are robot waiters a worthy investment for your restaurant? Read on to discover the advantages and disadvantages of robot waiters.
Robot waiters aren’t a new concept—but they’ve certainly stopped being a gimmick. Not only can they take customers’ orders, but they can run food to tables, bus dishware to the kitchen, and take card payments.
The more sophisticated ones can even have conversations with your diners!
But are robot waiters the future? Or are they just a passing trend? While some businesses have readily embraced robot waiters in their restaurants, others remain wary of the financial and ethical implications of substituting human workers for robots.
Robot waiters certainly have their drawbacks as well as their advantages. But before we dive into the pros and cons of robot waiters to help you decide whether they’re right for your restaurant, let’s quickly explore why robot waiters have become so popular.
The growing trend of robot waiters in restaurants
A couple of decades ago, robot waiters were a completely foreign concept. Now, you can see them gliding through the dining areas of the nation's most popular restaurants: Chick-fil-A, Denny’s, and Rita’s, to name a few. But how did this trend come about?
You’re probably all too familiar with “The Great Resignation”, which saw employees resign from their jobs in drones in the wake of the pandemic. This mass resignation led to critical labor shortages that are still being felt today. The food and beverage industry has been hit the hardest. So much so that a huge 62% of restaurants don’t have enough staff to meet their current customer demands.
When you consider why so many people resigned from their roles, the figures make sense. The modern workforce desires conditions that the food and beverages industry can’t always offer: career advancement, remote working, and flexibility.
Fewer people are willing to work weekends, holidays, and unsociable hours, putting the post-pandemic F&B industry at a disadvantage.
The result? Understaffed restaurants, overworked employees, dissatisfied customers, and lost revenue. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Robot waiters can fill the gap presented by the labor shortage. These wheeled machines grow more capable by the year, improving restaurant efficiency, reducing labor costs, and helping human waiters deliver better customer service. As the volume of people opting to dine-in continues to rise, restaurants can meet these demands.
Advantages of investing in robot waiters
From speedier service to reduced labor costs, here are the main advantages that robot waiters bring to the table.
Provide speedier customer service with robots
With the strength to carry more weight than the average human, robot waiters can speedily transfer heavy plates of food back and forth from the dining area to the kitchen.
Let’s take Bear Robotics’ Servi, for example. This robot waiter can carry up to 66 pounds, approximately 10 times more than human waiters can comfortably manage. It also has a max speed of 1.2 meters per second, enabling it to speedily cover the length of your restaurant.
As a result, you can reliably meet food wait time expectations. And because waiters won’t be frantically running food, they can spend more time chatting with customers and resolving issues.
Cut down on labor costs with a smaller workforce
Hiring, training, and retaining employees comes at a significant cost—particularly in the hospitality industry, where staff turnover rates are notoriously high. Onboarding employee software can offer a solution as it streamlines and automates the onboarding process, helping you train and retain competent staff.
But alongside onboarding software, you can also use robot waiters.
While they do come with maintenance costs, robot waiters don’t require an hourly wage, paid time off, or benefits. This can lead to some serious long-term cost benefits if you’re short of staff or struggling with high turnover.
Improved consistency and customer satisfaction
So, your restaurant has free tables available but not enough waiters to manage them—a tale as old as time. And we all know just how frustrating it can be for customers when they’re told that they need to wait to be seated.
A relative majority (38%) of customers are only willing to wait 15-30 minutes for a table. If you don’t have the staff to accommodate them, you could miss out on some serious revenue.
Robot waiters resolve this issue by increasing your capacity when you’re understaffed. Instead of making customers wait, they can be directed to tables unmanned by human waiters and still receive customer service from your robot waiter. This improves customer satisfaction, drives more positive online customer reviews, and boosts your reputation.
And that’s not all.
Understandably, human waiters can get tired and frustrated with the repetitive, labor-intensive demands of the restaurant environment, causing their performance to slip. But robot waiters never grow tired of tedious tasks. They’re able to deliver consistent customer service regardless of how many hours they’ve been working—a huge plus for your restaurant.
Robots swiftly adapt to changing dining areas
Post-pandemic, restaurant tables have grown further apart, and extra precautions are being put in place to keep diners distanced. There’s also a rise in environmental awareness which has seen the dining area become more sustainability-focused.
Robot waiters can swiftly adapt to these changes. They facilitate customer desires for less human contact, and they never forget to recycle. Plus, they can adapt to ad hoc changes. Their different speed settings, for example, allow them to cover more ground when restaurants get busy and go at a more leisurely pace when it’s quiet.
No issues on extended and continuous shifts
Oftentimes, your employees will ask to extend their shifts because they want the overtime. In other instances, you’re so short-staffed that extending shifts feels like the only option. But there are ethical and legal implications to overworking your employees—whether they ask for it or not.
As for robot waiters, you’re free to extend their shifts and have them work as long as you wish. They don’t get tired or overworked, and there are no tax implications to contend with. They don’t even need to take breaks.
Drawbacks of robot waiters in the long run
Like any robotics technology that we place in front-facing roles, robot waiters have limitations. So, what are the problems with robot waiters?
Expensive initial investment and maintenance costs
If you choose to buy a robot waiter outright, it’s going to cost you tens of thousands of pounds. That’s a very expensive investment, especially when you consider ongoing maintenance costs.
Generally, businesses will rent or lease robot waiters, which is a much more cost-effective option. It’s worth noting, though, that robot waiters are only cost-effective if they’re used frequently. Large restaurants that are constantly buzzing with customers are going to see a better return on investment than smaller restaurants that experience periods of lull.
Using the best expense management software and accounting tools you can find, calculate your labor expenses to get an accurate view of your current expenditures. Observe your restaurant's busiest and slowest periods to gauge staffing needs. From there, estimate how often you’ll need to use robot waiters and run the numbers to see if they’re financially viable for you.
Lack of human empathy during issue resolution
Can robots replace waiters? Technically, yes—but they won’t do a very good job of it for this specific reason.
Most robot waiters aren’t designed to respond to customer requests. Even AI-powered robot waiters are unable to resolve issues with the same empathy and understanding that human waiters are capable of. It’s what makes human staff so indisputably valuable.
Potential job displacement can break employee morale
Robot waiters are designed to supplement human employees, not replace them. But that doesn’t mean your current employees will see it this way.
Employees who feel as though their jobs are under threat by robots aren’t exactly going to welcome them with open arms. It can ruin team morale and breed animosity between your staff and your company.
There are steps that you can take to mitigate this risk. Explain to your employees that robots aren’t there to replace human waiters but rather assist them, essentially making your employees’ jobs more comfortable.
Tech malfunctions and downtime can disrupt operations
If your robot waiter malfunctions—or you forget to charge it overnight—the downtime can severely disrupt restaurant operations. It can lead to longer wait times, overworked staff, and disgruntled customers. Not to mention, you’ll need to call in extra staff at short notice.
Customer preference for human interaction during service
Despite the booming popularity of self-service, there are still customers who prefer human interaction. Many consider waiters to be central to their dining experience and enjoy the pleasant conversation just as much as the food. Other customers may feel uncomfortable about engaging with a machine.
Are robot waiters here to stay?
Certainly, there are limitations that make robot waiters unfeasible for some. The expense of the initial investment and ongoing maintenance—not to mention the ROI implications for smaller businesses—are things to consider. And if your customers and employees aren’t on board, robot waiters may be more trouble than they’re worth.
Saying that, the increased efficiency and agility that robot waiters provide make them a valuable asset. In the midst of the labor shortage, restaurant owners can use robot waiters to reduce labor costs, streamline operations, and improve customer service.
With robot waiter technologies continuing to advance, it’s likely that robot waiters are here to stay. But do the benefits outweigh the negatives? That’s up to you to decide.