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Ball State study finds more restaurants will be adding robots to offset rising labor costs

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Posted at 1:07 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 13:23:19-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A new Ball State study recently released in the 'Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research' found that the rise in labor costs will soon force restaurant owners to turn to robotics.

According to Dina Marie Zemke's study, "How to Build a Better Robot for Quick Service Restuarant," the question is no longer "if" restaurants will turn to robots, but "when" will restaurants turn to them.

"Imagine telling your problems to a robot instead of a human," Zemke said. "It changes the dynamic of bartending dramatically when you add in mechanism with artificial intelligence and not common sense."

Now more than ever, buying automated technology to perform specific physical tasks is a feasible option for the service industry.

Zemke, an associate professor of residential property management, said that both the rise in labor costs and the decrease in prices of robotic equipment are factors for the shift in the hospitality industry.

For example, the price of a hamburger cooking robot is about $60,000. However, a robotic vacuum or assembly arms are leased at $4 to $6 an hour, that's less than Indiana's minimum wage of $7.25.

Most of the technology being used in the hospitality industry are technologies originally made for automobile or food manufacturing, Zemke's study revealed. Such robots can vacuum, serve as information displays, and assemble pizzas or cocktails.

Although the study found that more restaurants may turn to robots more, it also found that industry guests still have concerns, including cleanliness and food safety of robots, the communication quality, and voice recognition.

"At this point, a lot of people have a positive impression of robotic technology that entices guests to visit the location at least once, although they were unsure whether the robotics would sufficiently overcome average food or service to entice them to return to the restaurant a second time," Zemke said. "This is consistent with past examples of restaurant concepts that provided a highly unique experience but suffered from the reputation that the guest would visit once because of the 'experience' but would not return because the food was too expensive and/or the food quality or service provided a poor value overall."

In the end, the Ball State professor — along with several other faculty members from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas — found that the rise in labor costs will force restaurant owners to turn to robotics.

"The genesis of this study was the 'Fight for $ 15' movement, which focused heavily on hourly service jobs, such as those in franchised quick-service restaurants," she said. "Many restaurant operators cautiously suggested that they may explore robotics as an alternative to absorbing these increased labor costs."