We Need Robot Restaurants

As I found yet another take-out order gone wrong this week I started thinking about the problem of fast food restaurants and take-out windows. Part of the problem is the people who work these windows. You need someone smart enough to get the order right but not so smart that they get bored and quit right away. It seems like a lot of places skimp on the "smart enough to get the order right" part when they hire people.

So I was thinking that this is an area ripe for robots and computer controlled ordering. Voice recognition systems are getting better and seem like they might be as good as some people who work at these drive-through windows. The last time I was in a fast food restaurant where the people seemed really smart and spoke really good English I was in Norway. Lately in US places people seem to be having almost as much trouble understanding me as I do them.

Anyway. I could see a robot operation that took orders using either voice recognition or some sort of interactive display. The food could be cooked and assembled and presented to a person to hand through the window. I’m not sure we’re ready for a robot to hand out the food and collect the money yet. It might work with credit cards though.

I see two major problems. One is that we may need smarter customers to manage computer ordering. There is no way to make it completely idiot proof. There are some amazing idiots out there. The second is that there are already a shortage of jobs for the types of people who tend to take these jobs. High school students, mothers and seniors looking to fill time and pick up a few extra bucks, and people without more marketable skills. So that is a social issue.

We’d still need people to feed the equipment and handle screw ups. Hopefully there would be fewer screw ups in the preparation of the order but remember that a lot of people would be likely to mess up in what they order. But if you could get my with one or two people at times that now require three to five there would be some savings in payroll.

There is one other potential problem. Sometimes companies modify the product to fit production at the cost of quality of the product. I can’t see that being an issue at some fast food restaurants where quality is not so impressive as it is.  Plus I think that a lot of semi-automation adjustment has already taken place. How much worse could it get?

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