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The Robots are Coming to the Catering World!

(and they come in peace)

Automation is no longer sci-fi. “Machines” are standard equipment in restaurants and many commercial kitchens.

Although robots may replace certain job functions, they will also be invaluable in speeding-up and standardizing others. The term “co-botting” refers to people working side-by-side with robots to get their jobs done.

Here are just a few of the real-world applications of technology that will have an impact on the catering industry. (Be sure to see our earlier post on other ways catering is changing.)

1. Bartending. Several companies are now manufacturing automated cocktail prep devices. In fact, the Tipsy Robot in Las Vegas is “staffed” by robot mixologists, freeing up humans to talk to guests and deliver personalized service. Barsys is a cocktail maker powered by an app that has more than 2,000 recipes in its “brain.” Prices for the equipment are still high but are beginning to come down. For now, they are primarily a novelty, but consistency and speed may make them a necessity one day soon.

Credit: Barsys

2. Food Prep. From pizza makers like Zume  to burger flippers like Flippy, kitchen staff is now assisted by automation. Cali Group is a California-based holding company that is investing specifically in food and restaurant technologies and even using its own QSR CaliBurger to test new technology concepts. Interested in healthy custom food options? Sally the Salad Robot makes customizable bowls, making it a good solution for institutional applications.

3. Robot Staff. Pepper is probably the most famous of service-oriented non-humans. It has been around for 10 years and even now has a full-time gig at the Smithsonian as an entertaining greeter.

Credit: Softbank Robotics

4. The Power of Voice. Perhaps you’ve already mastered asking Alexa or Siri for the weather or your favorite music playlist at home. Voice technologies will soon be prevalent throughout the food world.

Credit: Social Tables

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5. Operations. Many professionals will tell you that responding to RFPs and preparing contracts are necessary but dreaded evils of the catering industry. Companies like PandaDoc and Proposa are streamlining paperwork. You have apps like Social Tables and  Gather to keep your events (and yourself) organized and generate new leads; think of it as your personal assistant on your phone. Technology can even help you become a better salesperson, as AI-assisted companies like Gong and Chorus analyze sales conversations and provide useful feedback to teams and individuals.

With any technology, you need to look at the investment in automation in terms of its potential cost- and time-saving value. We’re at a point in the evolution of food preparation and serving when the question is no longer whether robots will enter the kitchen, event space, and office but rather what they will look like, how you will talk to them, and how you should invest in the right technology for your needs.

What can you do as a catering professional? Keep abreast of trends but do not feel compelled to jump on every technology innovation. Look at robots and other devices/technologies as helpers rather than the enemy and evaluate them with an open mind. Humans will always be a fundamental part of our industry. But many of us will simply have assistants made of metal and plastic.

Stay on top of the next wave of technology trends. Join us at Catersource! (You may even meet a robot or two!) 

Nancy A. Shenker

Founder/CEO | theONswitch

Nancy A. Shenker is Founder/CEO of theONswitch marketing and a professional content strategist, writer, and speaker.

She has spent more than  30 years in the events, food, retail, and small business worlds, focused on delivering meaningful and memorable experiences and bottom-line results.