Published May 23, 2022

Slices of Insight: Is Automation the Future of Pizza?

Scott Erickson, Chief Marketing Officer, Picnic

When I tell people that I work with robotic pizza automation, the conversation usually weaves its way into their waxing poetically about a future world where co-bots and AI helpers are as common as drive-throughs and delivery apps. But the world of kitchen automation is already here.

I think a lot about the role of kitchen automation. At Picnic, we study the economic benefits, the ROI via throughput analyses, and how new technologies are shaping kitchens. One of the most important factors we look at is the perception people have about robots helping make their meals.

Through a partnership with leading business and hospitality researchers Dina Marie Zemke, PhD from Ball State University and Carola Raab, PhD from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, we surveyed 1000 Americans in early 2022 to understand exactly what they thought about pizza automation.

In my first article about this study, I shared that consistency was the #1 thing people wanted in their pizza. But how do you ensure consistency when you’re constantly training new staff, when you’re struggling with profitability from rising food costs, and trying to maintain a consistent brand image?  The answer is already here, and the respondents agree. Americans feel that pizza automation will increase consistency and order accuracy while reducing price and wait times.

The restaurant industry is no stranger to labor shortages. Prior to COVID, industry reports showed roughly 800,000 open positions in U.S. food service and hospitality. Post-pandemic, that ballooned to over 1.4 million open jobs. And with the rise of virtual kitchens, increased delivery apps, and 24/7 food delivery, the demand for making food is at an all-time high. The only solution for a restaurant to meet demand without labor is to add automation into the kitchen.

Does automation turn off customers?

But does adding automation compromise quality, hurt brand perception, or turn away customers? In a word: no. Two-thirds of Americans believe automation will help ensure pizza consistency and a third feel that pizza quality would increase with automation.

Consumers are also aware of the impacts of labor shortages. They feel it every day in many areas of their lives. Our study asked people how they would react to their favorite pizza restaurants adding robotic technologies to offset open jobs and their responses were overall favorable. Two-thirds of Americans surveyed feel that filling open jobs with technology is acceptable and necessary. When we asked how they think about the kitchens of tomorrow, 80% of Americans believe that kitchen automation is the wave of the future.

How can automation help make kitchens more successful?

At Picnic, we make automated pizza assembly stations that save labor, time, and money. The Picnic Pizza Station is a modular makeline that can assemble up to 100 pizzas per hour with one operator and creates less than 2% food waste. The station is designed to automate the repetitive tasks of pizza making to free up employees to do other high-value jobs.

Real world in-kitchen results speak for themselves. Chartwells Higher Education (a division of the Compass Group) manages food service at Texas A&M University where the Picnic Pizza Station has been in use for many months. Immediately, the team saw a 66% reduction in labor, higher customer satisfaction in a blind taste test, and increased employee efficiencies.

Americans are ready for kitchen automation to help ensure consistency, low prices, and high quality of their favorite foods. Customers like Chartwells are demonstrating that adding automated pizza makelines to their existing operations can save time, money, and labor without compromising quality or guest satisfaction.