As labor shortages and rising costs continue to cut into profit margins, restaurants are looking for ways to improve their business model—and automation is increasingly looking like a viable solution. From conversational AI drive-thrus to full-service fry cook robots, the possibilities are endless, but not all roles can be replaced.
Capterra’s 2022 Restaurant Automation Survey (registration required) found that more than half of restaurant leaders say front-of-house restaurant workers can easily be automated with today’s technology, but some disciplines remain currently irreplaceable.
According to the new research, most restaurants (76%) are currently using automation in three or more areas of operation and agree that certain roles are more automatable than others. Front-of-house (FOH) restaurant roles may be on the chopping block in the future, as most leaders believe that hosts, baristas, and drive-through operators can easily be replaced, and in some cases improved, by automation technology.
Leaders also agree on which roles are irreplaceable–most say chefs and cooks are the least-automatable jobs, followed by managers, waitstaff, and bartenders. Chef robots are currently very limited in their capabilities (e.g., mixing beverages or operating deep fryers). Managers, waitstaff, and bartenders add a personal touch to diners’ experiences and take a unique skill set not offered by current robotic solutions.
Growing restaurants often have different needs compared to more established corporate chains. Managerial staff is the least replaceable role for chains, franchises, and restaurant groups, but ranked fourth for independent restaurants, trailing behind chefs, waitstaff, and bartenders. This indicates that independent restaurants, particularly table service, place more emphasis on the human touch and quality of food produced by empowered chefs and FOH staff.
Employees and restaurant owners are benefiting from automation technology. According to the research, over three-quarters of leaders say their employees find it easy to use their restaurant’s automation tools and over half say revenue has increased since implementing the tools. For restaurant owners looking to invest in automation, those are great selling points.
Further, the new research found that nearly all restaurants today (96%) use automation tools in their back-of-house operations. This includes day-to-day kitchen functions such as inventory management, food prep, food safety monitoring, and order capacity, as well as administrative areas such as employee management and performance analytics. FOH automation tools also provide value through mobile ordering apps, digital loyalty programs, and online reservation software.