October 17, 2022

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Dani Cahn

Back in 2018 a writer, having just witnessed a robot server “on the fritz,” wondered in the Atlantic whether there was a market for a restaurant staffed solely by robots—ultimately concluding that the “type of person who orders a grain bowl on an iPhone” may be “content to forgo a welcoming human face,” but that it was unlikely that there were “enough such people to sustain a business.”

A few years and a global pandemic later? All that seems to have changed– if not for the people who eat at restaurants, then for the people that own them.

“The leisure and hospitality industry saw a 50 percent drop in employment in 2020, a dip of 8.3 million workers,” Jamie Richardson, vice president of marketing at White Castle, told the New York Times. “That is far and away the worst shock to the industry on record, dating back to the Great Depression.” 

Which is why White Castle, and a growing number of restaurant and hotel owners, have turned to Flippy, a robot designed by California-based startup Miso Robotics. 

But Flippy isn’t anything new. The robot arm has been flipping burgers long enough to have earned a mention in that same Atlantic article from 2018– long enough, as it turns out, to have become obsolete.

Last week Yahoo News announced the launch of Flippy2, which not only flips burgers but deep-fries chicken, french fries, onion rings, and more.

“The tasks that the humans are most happy to offload are tasks like the fry station,” Miso’s Chief Executive Mike Bell told Yahoo “They’re delighted to have the help so they can do other things.”

But Miso claims they’re hesitant to advertise which chains are included in the growing number of restaurants they work with, citing sensitivity to concerns about robots taking jobs.

They don’t want to give the impression that their robots are replacing human workers. 

Pundits have been telling us for years that the rapid growth of automation and artificial intelligence will put millions of people out of work.

But robots aren’t out there looking for jobs. 

In fact, the need to build robots creates them: Miso employs 90 plus human engineers to monitor their robots live and troubleshoot problems as they occur; robot support specialists (new openings available) who visit customer sites and handle Flippy’s installation and upkeep; and teams of client representatives on call 24/7, so all who dial the Flippy support line receive the excellent customer service they deserve.

The “costly human workers competing against efficient high-tech robots” line isn’t the whole picture. In fact, it cuts one of the main actors out of the story completely—employers. 

Employers are investing in a product that promises to reduce their reliance on human labor and—regardless of that product’s ability to deliver on that promise—they’re failing to invest in a change management system to help the human workers who’ll have to learn to work alongside them. As we learned during our conversation with Tammy Browning earlier this week, companies today are spending big time on technology to make employees more productive in their role– whether you’re talking robots or time-management software.  But the adoption and the usage of that technology? 

It’s generally in the 12% range. And that’s the kind of return on investment you can expect without a change management strategy: 

“The only way you can get better in your technology strategy is to also have a solid change management and training strategy. Your teams have to understand why the technology is being used, how to better use it, how to better engage with it, how to use technology to be more efficient in their role so that they can get more work done and not feel bogged down by manual workarounds that often slow people down and cause a significant amount of rework. So change management has to be peppered throughout, and change management requires a significant amount of communication and training at the tactical levels.”

It might be that employers would rather call customer service than manage human talent. But that’s not going to do much for the ROI on Flippy.

Those employers will be stuck paying $3,000 a month so that the engineers who built Flippy can maintain Flippy when, for a fraction of the cost, they could have invested in training their people to fix Flippy themselves. 

In the same Atlantic article I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the author talks about a pizza shop that put money into both its human and robot workers, teaching employees how to use the software so they could fix the robots themselves.  

If you want a real return on your investment, invest in your people—their development and well-being. They might call in sick but they’ll never break down– and if they burn out, we promise you won’t need to call a helpline to figure it out. 

You won’t need to be an engineer with an advanced degree to understand and get the best out of your people. You just need to be something you already are– human.

About 1Huddle

1Huddle is a coaching and development platform that uses quick-burst mobile games to more quickly and effectively educate, elevate, and energize your workforce — from frontline to full-time.

With a mobile-first approach to preparing the modern worker, a mobile library of 3,000+ quick-burst employee skill games, an on-demand game marketplace that covers 16 unique workforce skill areas, and the option for personalized content, 1Huddle is changing the way organizations think about their training – from a one-time boring onboarding experience to a continuous motivational tool. 

Key clients include Loews Hotels, Novartis, Madison Square Garden, PIMCO, TAO Group, and the United States Air Force. To learn more about 1Huddle and its platform, please visit 1huddle.co.

Dani Cahn Communications and Creative Development