Hit-Or-Miss Technology

Robots are Stealing All the Food Service Jobs

We’ll be lucky if robots only steal our jobs, rather than also enslaving civilization and mocking our weak sacks of soft-muscled frailty. Roughly 47 percent of jobs will be replaced by robots over the next 20 years, says one Oxford University study.

The fast food industry is specifically at risk, since labor and food costs represent 60-70 percent of industry revenues, according to a Cornerstone Capital Group report, while the recent national dialogue about a $15-hour minimum wage for quick service employees may speed things up.


And it’s already moving quickly. I mean, it seems like just yesterday I first saw servers using tablets instead of notepads. That’s been evolving too. Earlier this year, Olive Garden said it was going to install Ziosk tabletop tablets at all its restaurants by the end of 2015, so right there, tech’s limiting servers to basically just food runners.

But now robots are locking down kitchen gigs too! Hell, Momentum Machines went ahead and actually invented a burger-flipping robota step hopefully more toward Futurama than Terminator—and the bot can do up a burger every ten seconds. In short, the robot replaces three full-time kitchen employees, which is what the company’s founders intend to do. Why make employees more efficient when there’s money to be made selling “employees” to restaurants?


And there are a lot of jobs for those robots to take. We’re talking 2.4 million servers, about 3 million cooks and food preparers, and 3.3 million cashiers. It hasn’t exactly been a booming industry either. Since 1987, fast food eateries have grown at 0.3 percent per year, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That number is about to skyrocket if the government starts tracking robot employees, who never need vacation days, tips, or HR. So I hope you all enjoyed visiting your favorite server at that local country-themed family restaurant or rolling your eyes at every single server at Buffalo Wild Wings, because those days might be over soon.


Here’s a Look at the World’s ‘First Smart Restaurant,’ Kitchen-Free and Run by Robots


Earlier this year, we caught wind of a young robotics company out of San Francisco that had created its very own burger making machine. Just insert tomatoes, pickles, onions, lettuce, buns and meat and out the other end pops — you guessed it — a fully-cooked, ready-to-eat, “gourmet” hamburger.

We’ve already explored the implications a machine like this would have on the QSR market, the human jobs it would replace, but up until a few days ago, all we really had was speculation (and our own over-active imaginations). Well my friends, imaginate no longer! The global robo- takeover is officially upon us.

But it’s not as bad as you think.

Momentum Machines — the minds behind the burger maker — have expressed plans to create their own “smart restaurant” chain, serving burgers made by their own crime-fighting cooking robots. According to the company’s site, the technology will provide “the means for the next generation of restaurant design and operation.”

Single-item menus, zero line cooks and almost no wait times, MM’s proposed restaurant would be completely minimalist and tailored to improve guests’ experiences. Capable of pushing out approximately 360 burgers an hour, the machine takes up only 24 square feet, allowing for more spacious seating areas and hopefully more time spent improving the overall dining experience.

Best of all, because the staff never really has to touch the food, they also don’t have to wear those silly hair nets and non-slip shoes. Finally, all those cute cashier girls can put some effort into actually looking cute. That is, if they’re still actually needed at all.

Here’s Momentum’s official copy:

Fast food doesn’t have to have a negative connotation anymore. With our technology, a restaurant can offer gourmet quality burgers at fast food prices.

Our alpha machine replaces all of the hamburger line cooks in a restaurant.

It does everything employees can do except better:

  • It slices toppings like tomatoes and pickles only immediately before it places the slice onto your burger, giving you the freshest burger possible.
  • Our next revision will offer custom meat grinds for every single customer. Want a patty with 1/3 pork and 2/3 bison ground after you place your order? No problem.
  • Also, our next revision will use gourmet cooking techniques never before used in a fast food restaurant, giving the patty the perfect char but keeping in all the juices.
  • It’s more consistent, more sanitary, and can produce ~360 hamburgers per hour.

The labor savings allow a restaurant to spend approximately twice as much on high quality ingredients and the gourmet cooking techniques make the ingredients taste that much better.”

Got all that? That’s 360 “gourmet” fast food burgers, whipped out in under an hour and made entirely by robots. 

(Robo-burger. Robots made this.)

Check out the whole robotic cooking process here:

Granted, a machine-run fast food kitchen might not be as innovative as it sounds (hasn’t Krispy Kreme been doing that for years now?), but it’ll still be interesting to see exactly what sort of niche MM will be able to carve out for itself, say five years down the road.

After all, how “gourmet” can you get when your cuisinier is made of cold steel and plastic? And how much money can you really save when you remove wages, but you’ve factored in repair costs and technician training? And why in God’s name can’t I get fries with that?

What do you guys think? Is Momentum Machine’s “Smart Restaurant” the In-N-Out or Five Guys of the future? Or is it just another Wall-E waiting to happen?


Will This Burger Making Robot Change the Food Service Industry Forever?

Science fiction has always positioned the idea that one day our human jobs would be replaced by machines. For those working in burger assembly lines, that day might be sooner than you think.

Introducing a machine that makes burgers. Literally, it’s a burger making machine, in prototype, that takes unprepared ingredients like whole tomatoes, onions, uncooked patties, untoasted buns, and spits out a completely assembled burger:

Momentum Machines, the San Francisco-based robotics company responsible for the concept, notes that they are aiming to have a functional demo model by June 1st, 2012.

About a month ago, the company got a quick nod by the tech community and a shaky video by StartupGrind that caught the group during a work day. Jump to 2:38 for the interesting stuff, see company president Alex Vardakostas speak, joke about their CAD model and give a brief explanation about the power of their product:

Shortly after seeing this video, we put a call out to Alexandros Vardakostas, Momentum’s founder and president, to shed some light on what was a seemingly understated, potentially game changing burger making robot. Here’s the meat (har har):

How does it work?

The machine takes unprepared inputs (including whole tomatoes, onions, pickles, uncooked patties, untoasted buns, etc.) and then, as each order comes in, the device prepares the ingredients (slices tomatoes, char-broils patties, etc.) and assembles the entire burger.

Customization occurs through a simple user interface, allowing the button-pusher to opt out of certain ingredients and add extras of stuff they like. When it’s done doing the assembling, it even puts the burger into a bag, if that’s what your company needs it to do.

Vardakostas even commented on the possible additions of proteins outside of beef patties. He said they plan on integrating chicken sandwiches and fish sandwiches into the technology, and that their current setup isn’t too far off from handling such requests.

“The machine is already capable of handling different sizes of buns, tomatoes, et cetera” explained Vardakostas when asked about the limitations of his machine. “It’s also really customizable in that the restaurant owner can tell us the proportion sizes desired of each ingredient and we can very easily modify the machine to suit their demand.”

Daily upkeep for potential restaurant users involves reloading the machine with ingredients “every once in a long while.”

The anticipated output is currently around 360 hamburgers per hour.

A Robot That Makes Burgers

Pictured above is a hastily taken photo of one of the first burgers made by the machine, the first of what the company hopes is many successful burger assemblies.

The aim of the robot, which remains without a name currently, is to produce food more consistently, with higher quality and at a lower cost.

Ultimately, a sterile machine opens the opportunity for a much more sanitary work environment. For those that think burger making robots sound superfluous, let the ramifications sink in.

Vardakostas notes that their potential customers include “hamburger restaurants of all kinds, food trucks, airports, train stations and other high traffic locations.”

Most exciting, as Alex put it, is all the new restaurant concepts that could be unleashed with their technology as the backend.

The utility for a restaurant owner is evident, less people on the line with more output. If Momentum Machines does their due diligence, it may even be beneficial to make available an adaptable API — opening the floodgates to unique visual ordering experiences.

Could this mean a viable, high quality burger ATM — to levels even the Sprinkles Bakery Cupcake ATM never reached? Imagine the possibilities: walk up to a Burger ATM, punch in the ingredients you want, how you want your patty cooked, and a fresh made burger comes out the hole a few moments later?

But Robots Don’t Have a Heart, Burgers Should Be Made With Love

While some burger chains thrive on their meticulous line-driven output, there are thousands of eateries that have built their success on their lack of machines and personal touches.

Taking sit down restaurants out of the equation for a moment, take the popular West Coast In-N-Out burger chain, for example.

Their employees work their tails off, peeling potatoes, hand placing buns and patties on the grill, and for years, whether that makes a difference in taste or not, people flock to the restaurant knowing that their food is being made fresh and with care.

Would the presence of a robot doing the work of a group of cheery In-N-Out employees change how you feel about their burgers? If a robot (let’s call the robot Patty, for personality’s sake) could use all the same ingredients that a quality chain like In-N-Out uses — fresh lettuce, tomatoes, buns and quality meat — does it matter who assembles the end product?

Let’s think about it for one last minute. There are some pretty evident pros and cons to having Patty, the burger making robot, creating our meals.

The pros? An employee doesn’t touch my burger (as much) during the process. This means less chance for a stray hair, less chance for an employee having a bad day to not wash his hands before working, less overhead for the restaurant owner, and a hopeful lower cost product for the customer.

The cons? Restaurants that once prided themselves on the art of burger making will be tempted to adopt Patty as a kitchen aid. Since she can do the job of many employees, you also run into the inevitable “job stealing” stigma attached to robots like Patty. If Patty doesn’t break down and maintains a low margin of error, we’d imagine a franchisee or restaurateur looking after his bottom line would rather pay his robot nothing, than 5 – 10 employees an hourly wage, and paid lunch breaks.

Regardless of where your feelings fall about a burger making robot, this reality is a realistic situation that could befall us in the near future.

A few companies have already expressed interest in having Momentum create food robots for their operation — can you guess who these companies are? Where are some places you could see this machine working?

Are we already losing too many jobs in society to machines like this? Do you have any suggestions for the makers of the machine?

Discuss in the comments below!

[all images used courtesy o Alex Vardakostas]