Recently, burger chain CaliBurger incorporated “Flippy”, the burger-flipping robot at one of their restaurant locations. Essentially, the plan was to utilize the machine to complement workers by increasing speed of service, not replace them. It didn’t take long for Flippy to take its break while the company evaluates how humans will interact with the robotic machine which neither talks nor takes a break. Company culture and productivity often depend on the ability for staff to communicate and interact socially. In the right environment, social interaction leads to better morale and inspires humans to work faster and smarter. The interaction also has a strong positive impact on the customer experience where friendly, attentive service improves a restaurant patron’s satisfaction level and improves loyalty and their intent to return.
Flippy’s appeal is not just based on how well the robot flips burgers. Apparently, news of the robots activity spread rather quickly and drove a number of consumers to the location to see it themselves. Now this addition becomes a marketing tool and attraction for guests to not only dine at the restaurant but to satisfy their curiosity and witness the marvel. Flippy is a new celebrity.
Restaurants continue to operate with a very low margin on average around 5%. Increasing speed of service, efficiency and reducing labor costs are strong reasons for building robotics into an industry that has lagged with technology integration. If the investment also drives customers through the door, the payoff can be very big for operators who can afford to invest in robots. Ultimately, humans will need to learn to work with robots and likely build new expectations on restaurant hospitality as it evolves.
Today, Flippy may appear to be a sideshow gimmick but likely, this is the start of a big trend for restaurants and will shape the future of hospitality.