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Robotics in Restaurants - The Customer Journey and Workflow

20th Jun 2022 - Best view in desktop

The Situation – emerging use of robotics in service industry

The shift to the endemic of COVID-19 has ensued several good practices namely social distancing (contactless) and higher hygiene awareness. However, new problem arises is the acute shortage of manpower or labour in F&B service industry.

Due to the labour shortage, businesses have accelerated the use of technology by going digital and automation such as implementing QR code food ordering for customer to see the menu and make orders. Some of the restaurants in Malaysia went to the extent to buy robots to serve customer. Meet the emerging use of the delivery robots having multiple trays or shelves on wheels to deliver food to the table.

Thought leaders of robotics usage from QSR brands, Boat Noodles, Hajris F&B and Pudu Robotics

During the webinar on Robotics in Restaurants: “When will this technology be affordable to businesses?” organised by Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) and Malaysian Franchise Association held on 26th May 2022, 4 distinguish panel speakers from QSR Brands Holdings Bhd (Mr. Anwaar Haaziq Razmi) that operate KFC and Pizza Hut in Malaysia, Boat Noodles Sdn. Bhd. (Ms. Suliza Morad), Hajris F&B Sdn. Bhd. (Mr. Mohd Ubaidah), and Pudu Robotics (Ms. Irene Phung) stepped up to share their thoughts. This focus group discussion was led by Aleevar Consulting’s Mr. Yap Far Loon.

Webinar on Robotics in Restaurants: When will this technology be affordable to businesses

Webinar on Robotics in Restaurants: When will this technology be affordable to businesses

The panel speakers pointed out the affordability and suitability for F&B sectors on real case studies as the owners of robots, potential use, and pitfalls of the technology. Customer journeys and decision criteria were brought up in the discussion.

Robots communicate, serve, lessen staff workload, and boost diners' experience

Artificial Intelligence (AI) based robots is a combination of advanced hardware and fully thought processes in every workflow in the F&B sector. These restaurant robots are commonly used to serve the customer which not only help companies and staff to lessen their workload, but they can also boost their diners’ experience.

Certain tasks can be automated including delivering food, cleaning, cooking, communicate with customers (taking orders), provide a better dining experience (faster check-in and out, order taking, and fun for kids), and being a guest host in the Front of House (FOH). In the backend or Back of House (BOH), robots can be tasked to create recipes from selecting the correct ingredient quantity and can perform many labour intensive and repetitive tasks (deliver, cleaning table, washing dishes, etc).

With the advancement and promising adoption of the technology, even small restaurants can afford to buy robots at an attractive financing scheme namely through instalment payments.

Furthermore, robotics solution companies offer turnkey solution from installation, provide briefing to users, and customise user-friendly interface (i.e. provide gimmicks and can deliver birthday surprises to customers).

Malaysian F&B sector adopting robotic, and automation is still at the nascent stage where people are learning to get used to robotics systems and thus customers' interaction is still an exciting experience.

Some of the benefits of having robots in restaurants observed are business revenue increase, cost reduction, and ease to use with no technology or programming skillset needed. This has resulted embracing the robotics system into the workflow to be attractive.

Robotics reduce 30% manpower

During the webinar, the panel speakers shared that robots can reduce physical contact (having a contactless interaction) with people when serving food (i.e. more hygiene). For example, customers make orders using with QR code scanning from the tablet, or from kiosk ordering screen. Consumers' behaviour has been changing since the COVID-19 pandemic as seen where they are more comfortable with less contact with another human. The speakers agreed that the robots can speed up the task, take orders and make deliveries but there may be risk of losing the human touch experience.

One case study of a quick service brand, Pizza Hut, in the middle east, has a fully automated robotic system from Front-Of-House (FOH) ordering and Back-Of-House (BOH) by having from placing the ingredients to baking the pizza and finally packaging the food. Despite not having a dine in space, customers pick up the packed food themselves at a specific station.

Watch the full video about Pizza Hut by Hyper Food Robotics Ltd

In Malaysia, due to the acute shortage of labour, some restaurants already implementing robotics delivery of food to table resulting a 30% of reduction in manpower. Currently, 90% robotics systems are mostly implemented in F&B industry followed by hotels and supermarkets. The benefits are gaining new customer experience, ease the life, mitigate high turnover rate (i.e. retaining people), reducing marketing cost and gaining higher productivity where one robot are able to lift the weight (i.e. food) up to 60 kg.

The 6-step robotic restaurant customer journey

With the acute labour shortage, both the availability of multifunction robots at a very competitive cost, the supply of robotics systems begin to flourish. The choice of robots can be based on the restaurant 2 specific workflow requirement. First, being the Front-Of-House (FOH) serving the customers and second Back-Of-House (BOH) serving the backend or the kitchen. FOH begins from the customer attraction until customer payment steps whilst BOH refers to the robots acting as chefs that can cook flip, boil, cleaning function, and can cook distinct types of dishes.

Robotic Restaurant Customer Journey - Front - of - House (FOH)

Robotic Restaurant Customer Journey - Front - of - House (FOH)

At the FOH, the robot can be tasked to “attract” or to catch customers’ attention and luring them to come into the restaurants, the robot has an AI to perceive the environment, have a conversation with a person based on specific scenes, and attract the customer by offering a guided tour. Then, the robot can “attend” customers by asking a few questions then escorting the customer based on the human response. Next, “ordering” refers to ordering systems from the robots itself or from the QR code ordering on the table. Some of the robots explain specifically the menu, handle change request and substitutions of the food. “Delivery” robots specialised in delivering food to customers’ tables up to 3 tables in 1 trip and can lift almost 10 kg per tray and commonly used in tourism and hospitality. In addition, “cleaning” robots pick up the tray food on the table, load them up in a dishwasher at BOH, sort the garbage, compost, and recycle the garbage.

Robotic Restaurant Customer Journey - Back - of - House (BOH)

Robotic Restaurant Customer Journey - Back - of - House (BOH)

BOH steps begin from receiving “order completed” from a QR code ordering or kiosk ordering where the robot “pick ingredient” in a correct quantity according to recipes and ordering requests, the robots start to “cook” the dishes using a circular motion cooking. The robot can flip, boil water, access to recipes and know the timers (i.e. cooking the ingredients and watching the temperature), robot also does the “packing” the dishes whether it in paper bowl or plates without human intervention. Upon completion of cooking, some of the robots “clean equipment” and sanitise itself, but some of the robots require a human assistance (i.e. customers need to place used plates in one station and after the station is fully occupied with the plates, the staff will need to move them into the machine that clean and sanitise the plate and bowls).

Watch the full video about Circular Motion Cooking

The robotic restaurant concept - Price, Ambience, Food, Service and Robotic system

Robotic Restaurant Concept

Robotic Restaurant Concept

Robotic system – Based on the current robotic systems that are mapped to the restaurant overall customer journey, restaurants should consider which part of workflow that requires process automation or robotic assistance. For examples in the FOH, if food ordering or/and food delivery are required such as QR code ordering, tablets or touch screen tables, and delivery of food or/and beverage to the table respectively. Price - The price should be balanced with the service quality where customer perceived as a reasonable price are a significant component of a good restaurant’s experience. Some of the qualitative finding on customer who patronised robotics restaurant agreed that prices in robotic restaurants are low, reasonable, and value for money, and the size of food portion compared with the price. Some customers experienced that the food is overpriced but that could be compensated by the overall experience. Despite having robots in a restaurant being costly, robotics restaurants delivering quality food and service at a competitive price can be the restaurant unique selling point (USP).

Ambience – This may sound intangible but a critical factor in gaining customer satisfaction when bringing together food and service quality, and value for money. The ambience entails physical aspect’s components namely temperature, seating arrangements, atmosphere, décor, cleanliness, environment, comfort level, music, and the sound level of the robotic restaurants. Overall ambience includes theme, and the surrounding of robotics restaurants can deliver customer experience memorable or favourable outcome from good reviews such as “lovely ambience”, “nice ambience”, and “good ambience”.

Food - The gastronomic aspect refers to taste, menu variety, and food freshness. This is still the major aspect influences customer decision journey (i.e. from satisfaction that will result loyalty).

Previous study shows that gastronomic aspects created employment or jobs in food quality and food portion management, result positive customer experience, and promote customer revisit.

Service – This aspect encompasses attributes such as quick service and staff attributes (i.e. prompt response and helpfulness) are the components of service quality. Additionally, staff’s courteousy and attentiveness are just as important. Implementing robots can lessen staff burden to deliver quicker service such as delivering food. Though, robots are not meant to replace humans but complement by reducing waiting time and headcount and increases restaurant overall productivity.

Decision Criteria

There are three decision criteria considerations when embracing robotic system in restaurant:

Decision Criteria - Three Steps Consideration

1. Restaurant concept with robotic system

  • Review the robotic restaurant concept - Price, Ambience, Food, Service and Robotic system.

  • Identify the critical pain points in the restaurant workflow mapped to customer journey that may require robotic to assist

  • Identify the desired outcome (e.g. increase productivity, cost reduction of labour)

2. Financing the robotic system

  • Choice of payment (i.e. payment upfront cash or credit facilities or leasing or rental scheme)

3. Start small

  • Implementing the critical workflow that can be automated and based on the affordability

Sources from:

  1. MPC Webinar: MPC Webinar on Robotics in Restaurant

  2. Journal on Robotic in Modern-Day Restaurants and it’s the Dining Experience: Robotic in Modern-Day Restaurants

  3. Journal on Understanding the Robotic Restaurant Experience: Understanding Robotic Restaurant Experience (Multiple Case Study)

  4. Article on Serving Robots: Management and Applications for Restaurant Business Sustainability: Serving Robots

  5. Journal on How to Build A Better Robot for Quick-Service Restaurants: Build Better Robot for Quick-Service Restaurants

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