How Far Will Technology Go in the Restaurant Business

At the Taqueria27 Mexican restaurant in Salt Lake City, they prepare food and serve customers the way it has been done for generations. Cooks prepare recipes by hand using tools like knives, mixers, grills, and pots and pans. Out front, staff takes orders and payments. But is all of this destined to become a thing of the past? Will technology change everything?

There is little doubt that technology is making its way to restaurants. As to whether or not this will eventually replace human workers, no one really knows. Technology’s potential within the restaurant industry is hotly debated. On the one hand, technology can streamline operations, increase efficiency, and drive profits. On the other hand, it is hard to separate good food from human beings and their ability to produce it.

Electronic Ordering Kiosks

Technology in the restaurant sector is making its most visible splash in fast food ordering. Little by little, electronic ordering kiosks are replacing human beings standing behind counters and working cash registers. McDonald’s is among the leaders in the push for this new technology.

The world’s number one hamburger chain announced in 2018 that it would begin implementing electronic ordering kiosks at its restaurants. They plan to outfit as many as 1,000 stores per quarter with the goal of completely eliminating conventional ordering within a couple of years.

A few fast-casual chains have followed a similar approach but with a different twist. Instead of eliminating servers altogether, they have installed iPads at each table. Customers walk in, seat themselves, and place their orders. Then they sit back and wait for a server to deliver their food.

This sort of system doesn’t eliminate the need for servers, but it does cut down on the numbers working during any given shift. Without having to take orders and process payments, a single server can wait on more tables.

Food Preparation Robots

For something a bit more revolutionary, we go into the kitchen. According to Modern Restaurant Management, a Seattle company known as Picnic has launched the first ever food preparation robot and software system with built-in artificial intelligence. The system is intended to replace cooks.

Right now, Picnic is focusing on the pizza industry. They say their system is capable of producing hundreds of pizzas per hour, customizing each one according to customer specifications. Pizzas are built from scratch and cooked in a conveyor oven without the need for any human intervention.

Could this same technology be applied to making tacos? How about steaks, lasagna, and sushi? In theory, the system should be capable of preparing just about any kind of food. The question here is one of quality. Can a machine replicate the human touch that is so important to quality food?

An Impersonal Dining Experience

Let’s just say that restaurants eventually become so insurtech technologically advanced that they can be run by just one or two people. They would certainly be more profitable, but they would also be terribly impersonal. That could be the breaking point for diners. Customers may not be willing to dine in such a sterile setting.

When you go to Taqueria27 for great Mexican food, you also get to interact with human staff who seem generally interested in your comfort and satisfaction. You might even have the opportunity to meet the restaurant’s owners for an impromptu conversation over dinner. Replace humans with robots and that sort of thing disappears.

Technology is making its way into the restaurant industry. No argument there. But there is still something uniquely human about restaurant dining, something that can never be replicated by machines.