Robots are already working in fast-food restaurants — here's exactly what they're doing right now

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderThere’s a new way to get your grub — and it may be a good thing for fast-food employees.

Meet the newest fry cook at the US burger chain CaliBurger: Flippy. This robot, which will be installed in up to 10 of CaliBurger’s 50 locations, can turn patties on a grill and clean it.

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Flippy and its automated peers at fast food joints nationwide. The conclusion: Technology in fast food establishments isn’t replacing workers – it’s filling an expanding hole in the labour market.

As Business Insider reported in May, fast food employee turnover rates have hit a record high.

A restaurant that employs 20 people can expect to see 30 workers in the span of a year. The unemployment rate for restaurant workers is also the lowest on record, according to Labour Department data reported by the Journal.

Dunkin’ Doughnuts CEO Nigel Travis previously told Business Insider’s Kate Taylor that fast food’s labour shortage is the industry’s biggest crisis this year.

“In this market, employees will leave if they have one bad day,” Patrick Sugrue, the chief executive of Saladworks, told the Journal. “If that happens, having this technology in place makes it easier to deal with.”

Here’s where robots are filling the labour gaps:

Robots make food preparation easier for fast-food workers

CaliBurger’s Flippy does just what the name describes – it flips burgers, easing the chain’s need for more line cooks.

Arby’s has also installed ovens that roast its beef and automatically switches to holding mode, according to the Journal.

“That allows night crews to begin cooking for the next day’s lunch before leaving, eliminating the need for morning employees to arrive at 7 a.m. to begin the three-hour roasting process,” the Journal reported.

Some Dunkin’ Doughnuts shops have devices that grind and weigh coffee beans and assess the grind’s coarseness, the Journal reported. Some shops also have terminals that print out expiration times for different foods, rather than requiring workers to write the expiration labels by hand.

Self-service kiosks free up employees’ time to drive more business

Panera and McDonald’s are leading the charge on self-service kiosks.

At Panera, the cashiers that may have taken customers orders in the past may be reassigned to delivering food to tables or food preparation. “There’s a craft to making food, and that’s hard to replicate with robotics,” Panera Chief Executive Blaine Hurst told the Journal.

Shake Shack kiosk Astor PlaceShake Shack

Thanks to kiosks freeing up some labour, McDonald’s has also expanded into table service.

The restaurants report that kiosks have also helped both chains expand their delivery. Take-out, Delivery, drive-thru, catering, and other off-premise orders now comprise 62% of Panera’s business – an important new source of revenue, as Business Insider’s Taylor previously reported.

Other brands have experimented with concept stores. An entirely human-free KFC in Shanghai has friendly robots who take customers’ orders.

Grimy cleaning tasks are becoming a thing of the past

CaliBurger’s Flippy can not only turn burgers on the grill, but the robot can also clean the grill after use.

Wendy’s has implemented a slew of self-cleaning machines, according to the Journal. In order to remove the need to clean bacon grease off of stoves, some locations have installed self-cleaning ovens.

Complicated dishwashers have been replaced with new machines that cost $US6,500, according to the Journal. It saves nearly ten hours of labour per week to ensure bowls, spatulas, and other food prep utensils are clean.

Read the entire report at The Wall Street Journal.

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