Published January 18, 2023
Scott Erickson, CMO
It seems like each week there’s a story about a new kitchen robot that’s built to take the burden off under-staffed kitchens.
At Picnic, we love to see new kitchen automation. We see the real benefits of saving time, money, and labor–especially at a time when those resources are so precious.
But some people raise concerns that robots will steal jobs or that food quality won’t be on par with human-made meals. So we asked 1,000 Americans for insight into how they think about kitchen technology.
As we sliced and diced the data in various ways, some unexpected trends emerged that offered predictions of where automation is likely to happen first. By region and state, we can see consumer attitudes about automation that may just predict how the market will move.
First, the top thing that Americans want with their pizza—above great ingredients and fair price—is consistency. Getting the pizza you expect when you order it is a customer’s number-one desire. Yet when you have labor shortages or inconsistent staff, the likelihood of a consistent pizza is pretty low.
Inconsistent labor equals inconsistent quality which equals lower customer satisfaction. Kitchen automation can solve that inconsistency. Robots don’t quit, they don’t call in sick, and they make the same pizza each and every time.
But does this mean that robots will steal jobs? In a word: no. Post-pandemic, U.S. foodservice and hospitality open jobs ballooned to over 1.4 million (up from 800,000 pre-pandemic). When you add the rise of virtual kitchens, 24/7 food delivery, and America’s increased appetite for quick meals delivered fast, the labor demand on restaurants is higher than it’s ever been.
Picnic believes in more of a “cobot” approach where the technology is there to help employees. We want to make kitchen jobs easier by automating the repetitive tasks so people can do more valuable roles like serving guests.
In our survey, Americans told us that adding automation does not compromise quality, hurt brand perception, or turn away customers. Two-thirds of Americans believe automation will help ensure pizza consistency and a third feel that pizza quality will increase with automation.
In looking at our survey data, we were able to triangulate questions to find data patterns that can predict where automation may appear first. Respondents were asked if they believed kitchen automation was the wave of the future, if they felt automation would make pizza orders more consistent, and how interested they would be in seeing the robots at work.
Across the U.S., about 50% of participants felt that automation was the wave of the future and that it could make pizzas more consistent. Regionally, the West and the South were slightly more excited about the futuristic technology at 54% and 53% respectively. People in the West and Midwest were more interested in seeing the machines at work than in other regions. Households with children also remarked that they felt their children would especially enjoy seeing the machines at work.
Our survey indicates that the West is most likely to adopt robotic kitchen automation first, followed closely by the South, then the Midwest, and then the Northeast. The states that had the highest interest in kitchen automation in each region were California, Texas, Minnesota, and New York. For a great example of one energetic customer in Texas, check out our case study on Texas A&M University.
Wherever you live, you’re likely to see more news and excitement around automation in foodservice. From robo-fryers to autonomous baristas, restaurants are finding the added benefits of adding automation to their existing staff. Diners are excited about the benefits of pizza automation and are looking forward to seeing the high-tech employee the next time they dine out.