Robots have arrived in American restaurants and hotels for the same reasons they first arrived on factory floors.
The cost of machines, even sophisticated ones, has fallen significantly in recent years, dropping 40 percent since 2005, according to the Boston Consulting Group. Labor, meanwhile, is getting expensive, as some cities and states pass laws raising the minimum wage.
“We think we’ve hit the point where labor-wage rates are now making automation of those tasks make a lot more sense,” Bob Wright, the chief operations officer of Wendy’s, said in a conference call with investors last February, referring to jobs that feature “repetitive production tasks.” Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Panera are in the process of installing self-service kiosks in locations across the country, allowing customers to order without ever talking to an employee. Starbucks encourages customers to order on its mobile app; such transactions now account for 10 percent of sales.
Business owners insist that robots will take over work that is dirty, dangerous, or just dull, enabling humans to focus on other tasks. Like restaurants where they place their orders at kiosks, employees now bring food from the kitchen to their tables. “That labor has been redeployed back into the café to provide a differentiated guest experience,” Hurst said.
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