One of the most durable myths in the modern American food industry is that you can replace people with robots. It’s an especially popular belief with CEOs like Andy Puzder of Hardee’s, who argues that rising wages will make phasing out actual human employees all but inevitable — first in the front of the house, then the back. But it’s worth digging deeper to see if AI-restaurants are really the future.
The most obvious indicator that this concept could work would be Starbucks, with its highly popular app that lets you order while walking and just pick up your drinks. But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here; taking your order is not the primary job of anybody manning the register at a fast food place. They are actually there to serve and prepare food, especially quick items like black coffee and pre-made orders of fries, leaving the bigger jobs to the cooks and baristas. All these screens do is take an annoying task off an employee’s plate and cut down on miscommunication from the customer; the Starbucks app hasn’t “replaced” anybody.
So what about the back of the house? Could we see, say, a Terminator brewing coffee? Not at the moment. A robot simply isn’t capable of doing these jobs. A top of the line robot like Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, right now, costs a lot of money to build, and DARPA, the government’s mad science division, has invested millions in advanced robotics technology. Behold, the terrifying state of the art!