With all of the news about McDonalds , Chili’s , Applebee’s and others trying out self-ordering kiosks to automate portions of their dining experience, it begs the question, is this a new trend, are we going to see all of our favorite restaurants replacing personal interaction with cold, robotic devices? I think the answer is not as black and white. The automation trend is definitely here for restaurants, but we will see different flavors and levels of automation for different environments. The solution will be driven from the overall experience that each restaurant trying to achieve.
For restaurants like McDonalds and Subway, they are set up to be low cost providers of food. So, it makes perfect sense for them to automate as much of the process as possible. I can see a future where McDonald’s food is manufactured and served via vending machines that you drive up to, like an ATM. In contrast, I wouldn’t expect a high-end restaurant adopting anything similar, from a customer engagement perspective. They will continue to adopt new technologies to enhance processes, control costs and improve quality, but most of these items will be behind the scenes for the foreseeable future.
Applebee’s and Chili’s however, are right in the middle. The experience they are trying to create is both that of uniqueness, but also of value. This is proven by the limited functionality of the kiosks they are implementing. For the most part you still interact with real people, but you have some items (like bill paying) you can do without any interaction. I expect they will continue to add functionality until they find a balance between how much can be automated vs. what needs to remain personal and unique to get diners in the seats.
The real interesting opportunity I see lies in the new restaurants born in the age of automation. Companies like McDonalds, Applebee’s and Chili’s are adding technology to their existing structures and processes; while new restaurants, like Eatsa (backed by tech startup guru David Friedburg) are creating new systems based on technology available today. Everything from their processes to the layout of the restaurant has been designed to take advantage of self-ordering and automated delivery systems, all in an effort to produce very high quality food at high value prices. Without the efficiencies of automation, this has previously been very difficult for restaurants to achieve. Expect to see more of these types of restaurants opening all over, and even some of your favorite spots converting to this new model.