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Artificial Intelligence—the Answer to the Restaurant Labor Shortage?

Coral Drake | January 19, 2023 |

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Artificial Intelligence—the Answer to the Restaurant Labor Shortage?

Most restaurants in America are struggling to fill their staff openings right now. The labor shortage is crippling restaurants, forcing them to cut hours, close dining rooms, and in the most serious cases, even go out of business. 

This difficult reality has many operators searching for solutions in unconventional places. One such option is hyper-automation with artificial intelligence (continue reading to explore this concept in more detail). But is it really a lasting solution for the restaurant labor shortage

How Serious is the Restaurant Labor Shortage?

Before we dive into potential solutions for the restaurant labor shortage, let’s take a closer look at the challenge at hand.

If your restaurant has been scraping by with a skeleton crew, don't hold out hope that the end is in sight. It doesn't appear that the job market is about to be swamped with ready applicants anytime soon.

As of September, 2022, there were only six million workers actively seeking employment while a staggering 11 million jobs remained open. The discrepancy between the number of available jobs and the number of workers means that workers can be choosy about where they apply.

Unfortunately for restaurants, jobs with lower wages, tip-based work, and irregular hours are not the ones the limited workforce is choosing. What this means for your current staff is they will be pushed even harder, making it more likely that they too will seek out different employment options.

In order to keep your doors open and your guests happy, you’ll want to identify a remedy for the labor shortage that continues to loom over the restaurant industry. 

Is Artificial Intelligence the Answer to the Restaurant Labor Shortage?

Many restaurants are already researching artificial intelligence as a means to reduce staffing needs in a variety of ways. For example, Chipotle is looking into a tortilla chip-making robot, while Starbucks is experimenting with a variety of equipment to reduce the load on baristas. 

Artificial intelligence is tinkering with more than food preparation. Companies that offer automation technology also program computers to take accurate drive-through orders. Robots like “Flippy,” an invention of Miso Robotics, can be rented for a few thousand dollars a month, as well. 

As you consider your cost per employee, and the fact that you may be able to continue operating when you would otherwise be hampered due to staff shortages, the price tag of these robotic alternatives may seem pretty reasonable. 

One area where artificial intelligence falls short, of course, is in the human touch that people bring to customer experience. Think of it instead as a solution to offset your employee workload, handling mundane and routine tasks while your actual teammates provide a personal touch. 

Here’s one example of automation improving a restaurant’s operations as a supplemental enhancement: Chipotle is working with a new machine-learning kitchen management system to predict when ingredients are likely to be in demand so that they are kept fresher and less likely to be wasted. 

What is Hyper-Automation?

Hyper-automation utilizes robotics, artificial intelligence, and a wide range of other technology to complete tasks that people would normally have to perform, with little or no assistance. In the restaurant industry, hyper-automation with artificial intelligence enables a system of robots run by artificial intelligence to perform certain roles in the kitchen. 

Hyper-automation is a rapidly growing trend in a variety of industries, not just the restaurant industry. According to a recent study, 85% of participants intended to increase or maintain hyper-automation investments over the next year. 

Restaurants are a particularly good place for hyper-automation. Functions like cooking specific types of foods are tasks that robots programmed with artificial intelligence can handle well.

What Does Hyper-Automation with Artificial Intelligence Look Like in the Restaurant Industry?

Just about any repetitive process that is typically performed by a staff member can be integrated into a hyper-automation system. Ideally, you'll find that your staff spends more time creatively solving problems and investing in improving your restaurant than they do repeating mundane tasks. 

As an added benefit, there are likely to be fewer mistakes and complications when using artificial intelligence. Here are a few things that hyper-automation with artificial intelligence can do for your restaurant:


Artificial intelligence can tell you more about your restaurant than you ever knew. Collect data about what food is thrown away so that you can learn what's being wasted and adjust inventory and staff behavior accordingly. Kitchen display and management software constantly examines ingredient levels and provides sales and inventory reports so you can make better purchases and menu changes. 

Voice Ordering

When audio ordering is desired, such as in drive-through lanes, voice ordering artificial intelligence can perform the same role as a human worker. Panera Bread is looking into this kind of technology in its drive-thru lanes. “Tori” is designed to take orders through the drive-thru speaker just as if she were an employee. 

Making Food

Artificial intelligence allows robots to make good food. Safeguards like program specifications can help ensure that food prepared utilizing artificial intelligence and robots is less likely to be over or underdone. 

Artificial intelligence also does a great job of keeping ingredients fresh and using only the correct amount of inventory in order to avoid food waste. From flipping burgers, to cooking tortilla chips, to mixing salads, artificial intelligence is making strides in the food preparation process.

Kiosk Ordering

Okay, so kiosks aren’t necessarily an example of artificial intelligence, but self-ordering is another excellent supplement to your team’s workload. Enabling customers to place their orders on your kiosk makes it easy for them to order while allowing you to reduce staff required for a simple and repetitive task

Fully integrated communication between the kiosk and the kitchen will also eliminate mistakes in the translation between order placement and kitchen execution. 

Advantages of Hyper-Automation with Artificial Intelligence for Restaurants Struggling with a Labor Shortage

Stay Open Even When You’re Low on Staff

Hyper-automation with artificial intelligence goes further than being a helpful solution to the labor shortage. Automated systems can cook food, reduce order errors, and keep your drive thru lanes moving. Though robots can have high up-front costs, they don’t come with the lasting costs of employee benefits, and they never call out of a shift. 

Your team is essential to your service. But the introduction of artificial intelligence can bolster those employees and make their lives—and yours—even better. 

Compete in the Restaurant Industry

If you intend to be meaningfully competitive, you should consider looking into artificial intelligence. Of restaurant operators asked in 2021, half said they intended to use automation technology

It's true that most of the restaurants looking into automation technology and artificial intelligence on a major scale are likely to be large restaurant chains. However, this technology is trickling down to all levels of the restaurant industry. If you want to keep up, it's worth looking into artificial intelligence. 

Make Life Easier for Your Employees

The most obvious advantage of automation is to operate with fewer employees. However, an equally attractive side benefit is that the employees who remain will have a more pleasant work experience. When your best employees no longer need to flip burgers or fry tortilla chips, they'll be able to focus on ensuring the restaurant runs smoothly.

Employees are likely to take more pleasure and pride in their work, offering creative solutions and great customer service. Furthermore, you may be able to pay the employees you have more since you are maintaining a smaller workforce. 

In a competitive environment, where employees frequently leave restaurants for better opportunities, offering a great work environment and a competitive salary means you'll keep the best employees with the most experience at your restaurant for longer.

Learn More About Your Restaurant and Manage It Better

The reporting and precise calculations that artificial intelligence provide can teach you a lot about your restaurant:

  • If you know that your automated tortilla fryer only uses a precise amount of oil for an exact amount of time, you can keep oil inventory on a tighter schedule, using less storage space while always having the right amount of oil to keep the fryer going. 
  • Knowing how much waste of what sort is produced allows you to manage restaurant practices better to reduce that waste. 
  • Understanding when customers order what food allows you to stock ingredients more intelligently and keep it fresher.

The more you know about your restaurant, the better you can manage it. Furthermore, this kind of data is invaluable for informing decisions about the future. 

How to Implement Artificial Intelligence with Hyper-Automation at Your Restaurant

Are you ready to take the plunge into tackling the labor shortage your restaurant is experiencing with the help of hyper-automation? There's little question that artificial intelligence is the future of the restaurant industry, but committing to automating entire processes can be intimidating, especially for smaller restaurants. 

A great solution is to look into front-end solutions first. Automated ordering systems, kiosks, and communication systems between ordering apps and devices and the kitchen immediately eliminate miscommunications and enable your restaurant to serve customers better with fewer employees. 

If you are relying on staff to allow customers to take orders and communicate them to the back, you'll likely find that you can significantly reduce staffing with these changes. Even dining room wait staff can be reduced, since customers can order by themselves at their tables or from a kiosk.

Unlike food-making automation devices which are often large, expensive, and may be difficult to maintain, kitchen display systems and intelligent reporting about inventory, sales, and ingredient levels are affordable, easy to implement, and make an immediate impact.