Automation Top of Mind at RFDC
According to McKinsey, some 800 million full-time equivalent jobs will be taken over by automation by 2030. And for some restaurant executives, it’s starting to make a lot more sense.
During one discussion among top franchise CFOs at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference, they touched on a few ways they’re automating their operations.
At Chick-fil-A, CFO Brent Ragsdale said they’re currently testing two tech-forward, delivery-focused locations. But the enviable issue he’s seeing is kitchen capacity. At around $5 million in AUV, there just isn’t space in the kitchen to do delivery well.
In one effort to unlock capacity and redeploy a few labor hours, he’s looking at a little more automation on top of the company’s semi-automated grills.
“There are two things, we’re looking at some robotics in the back of the restaurant and take out some of the jobs that aren’t as preferable,” said Ragsdale. “We always squeezed lemons in the back of house, but I’m not sure if we get credit for that, so we’re talking about going to a juicing facility—that would save 1 million man hours in the back of house.”
Wendy’s CFO Gunther Plosch is looking for some automated help in the back of house as well. In this extremely competitive talent market, he said it’s finally making sense.
“For a long time we didn’t have automatic dishwashers,” said Plosch. “Why not? At $7 an hour it wasn’t a big deal but now at $15 it makes more sense.”
Fred LeFranc, the founder and CEO of Results thru Strategy, said there is a lot of action in the space and for good reason: labor is hard, and some of the talent isn’t all that talented.
“We are at the place where the most repetitive tasks can be performed by a robot,” said LeFranc. “And they don’t call in sick, they don’t talk back.”
During a presentation on the state of restaurant automation, he even showed off the adorable bussing bot from Bear Robotics. And there are a lot of novel startups in the space from Sally the Salad Robot that whips up salads for consumers or in the back of house. There’s Flippy the burger bot from Miso Robotics that is currently flipping a lot of burgers and frying up potatoes in a number of locations. And then there’s Spice out of Boston, a bowl concept that does all the cooking in automated cooking “drums.”
But it’s not just bells and whistles and Jetson’s whizbangs, it’s real, useful daily help like “flowing invoices directly into the P&L to avoid drudgery,” said LeFranc.