Automation and robotics are hot topics in business these days. While the notion of robots taking over jobs might still exist only in science fiction, business owners could start integrating robots into human workforces a lot sooner. How might a robot worker help or hinder your business model? One recent example, Flippy the Burger-Flipping Robot, provides plenty of insight.
Who (or What) is Flippy the Burger-Flipping Robot?
Maybe you’re picturing a cute humanoid robot in a chef’s apron, but Flippy is actually just a robotic arm with a spatula attached to one end. Flippy was born at Miso Robotics in Pasadena, California. With the ability to cook between 150 and 300 burger patties per hour, the robot was designed to work alongside fast-food employees and help reduce the burden on human workers to keep up with heavy demands.The bot is food-safe, and can be washed down to remove pesky kitchen grease and grime. It uses a variety of sensors to detect the size, location, and temperature of a burger then processes the information using artificial intelligence to decide when to flip the patty.
So far, the idea of a robotic burger-flipper seems promising — with the minimum wage in California heading for an increase to $15 per hour, many business owners are looking for smart ways to help mitigate the increased cost of employee wages and find a safe, reliable source of additional labour. In Canada, as of March 2018, provincial minimum wages range from $10.85 an hour in Nova Scotia to $14 an hour in Ontario — as a Canadian business owner you’re probably well acquainted with this particular struggle.
How Could A Burger-Flipping Robot Benefit You?
The potential benefits of a robotic worker are numerous. According to Miso, and supporters of Flippy, fast-food business and franchise owners could see advantages including:
- Lowered costs related to training and recruiting new employees
- Burgers that are cooked to precisely the right temperature every time
- Reduced stress on existing staff members
- Reduced incidence of workplace violence and injuries
When thinking about employing Flippy or a similar robot, the first benefit you probably think about is the money you could save. Fast food has a famously high employee turnover rate, and many restaurant owners are forced to spend a big chunk of money on recruitment advertising and events, as well as on training wages for employees who don’t yet have the skills necessary to contribute to profits. Flippy requires no training (beyond initial calibration and setup) and doesn’t quit until it’s manually shut off.
Flippy isn’t designed to replace a human worker. Rather, the robot helps eliminate the need to hire extra staff, like seasonal or on-call employees. Ideally, the robot is in charge of cooking patties, which frees up employees who would otherwise be busy manning the grill to take care of other tasks such as prep, customer service, stocking, and cleaning. Having internal employees taking care of things like cleaning and delivery could eliminate the need for outsourcing.
All the same, Flippy’s current price tag might be a bit of a hurdle. At $60,000 USD, the robot is almost twice as expensive as an additional employee working full-time at the proposed $15 an hour rate. Besides its initial price, Flippy also comes with an annual fee of 20% of your company’s profits to cover maintenance and upkeep. At this rate, you’re probably better off paying for a couple additional employees — unless you’re certain that the novelty of a burger-flipping robot is going to attract customers in droves.
Is Hiring a Robot Really Worth It?
So has Flippy been a roaring success? Perhaps not quite yet. Pasadena-based burger chain Caliburger hired the robot as part of its kitchen staff — and ended up "firing" Flippy after just one day. This doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for the robotic arm, but Flippy needs a bit more fine-tuning before it’s truly ready to serve customers — and human workers also need specialized training to work efficiently alongside the robot.
Customer service is also an important aspect of your business model to consider, in relation to robots. While some people would certainly be excited by the prospect of going to a fully automated fast food restaurant, others might find that the human touch is an irreplaceable part of the dining experience.
Maybe your business isn’t quite ready for a robot worker. There’s still ways to incorporate AI and machine learning into your restaurant to increase efficiency and make your life easier. Apps that incorporate artificial intelligence can help maintain and improve customer relationships and customer service. Flippy’s integrated AI service monitors the status of everything on the grill and sends out safety and cooking alerts. The application even extends to point-of-sale and inventory monitoring.
Alternatives to Flippy
Of course, if a trip to Pasadena for a demo doesn’t sound feasible, Quickbooks offers plenty of useful apps designed for restaurant owners. Point-of-sale apps can monitor your sales and inventory in real time, so you always know exactly what ingredients you have on hand and when to order more. Used in conjunction with a payroll app, these systems can help you make sure all your invoices are paid accurately and on time, so you never have to worry about running out of ketchup during lunch rush again.
A robot might not be coming to your kitchen anytime soon, but learning about the progress of Flippy and other robots like it can give you a glimpse into the future of the fast food industry.