Faced with the possibility of minimum wage increases and rapidly evolving technology, fast food CEOs have been toying with the idea of robotic servers over the past few months.
In March, Carl’s Jr CEO Andy Puzder expressed an interested in adopting more automated technology in his restaurants after learning about Eatsa, the mostly-automated San Francisco based healthy fast food joint.
And Tuesday, a former McDonald’s CEO also acknowledged the grim reality of replacing people with machines in the near future in the restaurant industry, saying "if you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry -- it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries -- it’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe,” Ed Rensi told FoxBusiness.
But Pizza Hut in Japan will be the first major chain to utilize robots to actually serve customers in its pilot program later this year.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the company has ordered several models of Pepper, a humanoid robot that is also being tested in the cruise and airline industries, to take orders and accept payment. The program will be tested in select Japanese franchise locations by the end of the year. It’s powered by MasterPass, MasterCard's digital wallet and mobile payment platform.
To place an order, customers can simply say hello to Pepper to begin the process. They can either tap an icon within the MasterPass digital wallet app through their phone or scan a QR code on a tablet the robot holds. As the customer orders, the robot responds by lighting up and using hand gestures-- just like a real human.
Pepper is also equipped with facial recognition software so he (the designers say Pepper is male) can “judge a customer’s mood and perhaps offer add-on products, trying to capitalize on how the customer is feeling." Each model of the robot costs about $1,600-- making him an effective cost-cutting measure if the bot were to be rolled out in lieu of hiring human labor.
Is this the beginning of a more efficient dining experience-- or the end of face-to-face customer service as we know it?