Monday, April 23, 2018

Automating Food Service

With minimum wage increasing in many states across the country, service staff wages are increasing. This means that either food prices will go up or you will see less service staff. In reality both are going to happen and already are.

I have personally noticed that the speed and quality of food services has decreased in recent years to the point where I either don't want to eat out or expect a long wait for service and food.

When wages go up arbitrarily because of political pressure instead of free market driving the wages you will have many consequences.

First there will be higher prices, and if a business tries to control what they charged, they must cut costs. The biggest overhead for most employers especially in thes service sector are wages. So when your restaurant on a Friday night used to have 7 wait staff but now have 5, those wait staff have to work a LOT harder. Those wait staff may make more money but the amount of work is much higher than the pay raise. This will cause burn out and eventually the quality of the service will drop.

Higher prices will erase much of the wage increase. If prices go up 5 or 10 percent and your wage went up 5 or 10 percent. Will you do the math...

Entry level is too expensive and many people will not be able to get an entry level service job. If you have to pay a dishwasher $15 an hour where you used to pay them $8 or $10 an hour that is a huge difference. Plus they will not be more efficient, they will not do more dishes per house. Same dishwasher more overhead.

Wages need to increase organically with the market. If a waiter or waitress is willing to work for $7 an hour plus tips then let them. If a dishwasher is willing to work for $5 an hour, let them. If you can't get any cooks for less than $14 an hour then that is the market telling you that you must pay at least that much or you will not have any cooks.

FINALLY PEOPLE WILL BE REPLACED BY TECHNOLOGY! People have been replaced by technology since technology existed. Most people used to farm, percentage wise hardly anyone works on a farm anymore. What happened to all those jobs? Technology like combines, tractors, automated picking equipment, planting equipment, processing plants, and on and on. But employement is just as high if not higher today as there are different jobs to fill. As the service sector is continually automated those that used to fill those jobs will do something else. Including jobs that we can't even think of today. Like colonizing Mars?

As wages go up the ROI (return on investment) for automating a service job goes down. That robot burger flipper that costs $60,000 used to be too expensive when you only paid a person $20,000 a year. But at $30,000 a year the robot will be paid for in 2 years. And the robot is never late to work, does not need a break, never sick, and never complains. If your smart your new job will be to program and maintain those robots instead of complaining about them replacing you.

Now picture the future of food service...
You walk into your favorite restaurant and ask for a table for your family of 5. Instead of the typical 45 minute to an hour wait you get an answer of 16 minutes. This is because all the tables are tracked with an algorithm based on how many people there are at each table, what they are eating, and also how many alcoholic drinks they have had. Plus factor in how long it takes to clear a table and how many staff there are to work the tables; with historical data that 16 minute estimated wait time should be pretty close.

You sit down to wait and start deciding what you want to eat and drink from a tablet with a full menu. If you have any questions or have a special request, just press a button on the tablet for help or put in a note.

15 minutes later your table is ready (1 minute faster than expected! YEA!). The dedicated wait staff brings you to your table where your drinks are already showing up from the dedicated drink and table staff. Since everyone has already picked what they want to eat the kitchen has your orders and is preparing them as you sit down.

Back in the kitchen your orders are already being prepared based on how long each plate takes to make, slowest to fastest. Orders are shown on large screens with any special request in bright red so the kitchen staff does not miss them. Once a plate is completed it is set on the counter on top of a large display surface with your table number and a picture of each plate. The plates have RFIDs on the bottom of them and notify the staff when they are all ready as well as update your tablet that your order that it has been plated. When the dedicated drink and table staff comes by to pick up your order everything is ready to go at once and the customers get their food quickly.

Back at your table you already know that your food should be coming out in the next few minutes so you order another drink with a few presses on your tables tablet. Your drink shows up a few minutes later with the food.

The dedicated drink and table staff gets paid based on efficiency of bringing plates and drinks. There is no tipping in this restaurant, instead the staff is paid very well compared to a minimum wage job plus tips. Because the pay is based on efficiencies there is a lot of motivation for being quick and doing a great job. Customers can rate the friendliness of the staff as well by choosing their picture on the tables tablet and anonymously giving them ratings. These are all sent to the managers on staff in real-time. If they see complaints from a table they address the issue immediately.

During your meal drinks never run dry and any request or additional food is brought out quickly without having to wait for a staff member to come around. By the time everyone is finished with their meal the bill gets paid on the tables tablet quickly and easily. Each customer can pay individually or as a group with a credit card or cash.

In the end you have happy customers, happy staff that get paid better for doing a great job, and the restaurant is moving paying customers through quickly bringing in more revenue than ever before.

Sounds like a dream? Shouldn't be. All this technology exist and most customers today will have no problem with not ordering from a person in exchange for a faster and more pleasant experience. After all waiting is the worse part of eating out.

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