Will drones fly their way into the restaurant industry?

Will drones fly their way into the restaurant industry? https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/drones2015a-900x198.jpg

By Lex Nepomuceno, Executive Editor

Earlier this year, a Singapore-based restaurant chain, Timbre, announced that it will be implementing drone waiters as a way to deal with the country’s growing service staffing gap issue. In fact, prior to the drone rollout, several well-established food establishments closed their doors because of local manpower shortages and increased costs.

Instead of closing its doors, the forward-thinking restaurant decided to turn to flying robot waiters that can carry over four pounds of food to customers. The drones utilize infrared sensors embedded throughout the restaurant, as well as sophisticated mapping software tailored to busy food establishments in order to navigate and deliver to each table.

Such an elaborate drone system will likely go through some growing pains; recently there was a drone that crashed into a customer’s face at a TGI Friday’s in New York. However, all pioneering innovations start somewhere and it is better to get an early jump now as business owners face challenges such as increasing labor costs, regulatory burdens and entitlements.

It is important to note that owners of the Timbre restaurant/bar don’t intend to use the drones as a way to replace human workers. They are focusing more on “workplace optimization” where the flying wait staff will supplement existing human teams. This will allow the restaurant to focus its human staff on higher skilled/higher paying endeavors such as making cocktails and customer service.

Although the restaurant doesn’t expect a full rollout of the drone wait staff until later this year, the idea of drones flying around a busy restaurant may seem like an absurd concept. More than 40 percent of the American public are actually against private ownership of drones, and privacy advocates have consistently presented examples where flying robots with cameras would threaten privacy rights. Drones are right up there with Google Glass in terms of public acceptance.

However, when looking at unorthodox implementations of technology, restaurateurs shouldn’t just look at the hardware itself, but at what the technology represents. Will this type of trend help your business attract customers? Will it help improve operations? Will it help you control costs? Will it help you to ultimately provide a better customer experience because your valued staff can focus on higher value tasks such as following up with diners or making sure the orders are prepared properly? The dining area is a very busy place and finding ways to automate certain tasks may help the human wait staff ensure a five-star experience for customers.

Another reality is that restaurant operators will need to find ways to run a leaner and more efficient business if they are unable to profitably pay for major jumps in wages and benefits. Applying creative, technological solutions is certainly better than cutting back hours or even closing the doors.

When looking at technology, remember Moore’s Law, which basically states that processing power for computers will double every 18-24 months. Yes, drones, robots and automated kitchens may be rough around the edges now, but imagine where it will all be in 3-6 years. Surely, you expect your restaurant to still be around at that time, so why not get the jump on the competition and imminent labor challenges now? At least, be prepared.

(Source: Washington Restaurant Magazine, March 2015)


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