Restaurants look to automated service to streamline operations, cut costs

“Hello, may I take your order please?”

That’s something you’ll be hearing less and less of as fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Jack in the Box add self-checkout kiosks to streamline operations and cut costs.

The use of automated tech in restaurants is widespread in Europe and Asia, and it’s finally making its way to Hawaii.

Eddie Flores Jr., president of L&L Hawaiian BBQ, says Hawaii is way behind when it comes to using technology.

“When I was in Japan over 20, 30 years ago, I’d already seen all those automatic cashier machines,” Flores said. “Recently I was in Europe. Almost every McDonald’s fast food restaurant is using it. When I went to the airport, the same thing.”

Flores says he doesn’t have automated kiosks because they still cost too much.

“With the automatic machines right now, it’s not possible because they’re so expensive,” Flores said. “But it’s just like a cash register. In the long run, it’s going to be much cheaper.”

Flores believes they would bring down his overhead costs. “Running a restaurant business is really tough. Food costs is one of the major item. The next is labor costs. Any way that we can save money on the labor, it will help us,” he said.

“We don’t want to get rid of the human contact with servers being in our restaurant,” said Rick Nakashima, a Ruby Tuesday Hawaii partner.

At the same time, Nakashima admitted labor costs are making it hard to stay afloat.

“We’ve had four years of increases in minimum wage in a row,” Nakashima said. “Just four short years ago, we were under $7.25 with a 75-cent tip credit. Now we’re up to $10.10. We’re headed in that direction now for a lot of restaurants in America with the minimum wage increases going up.”

Ruby Tuesday waiters currently carry tablets to take peoples orders at the table.

“It ensures that our guests get their order quickly, because as soon as it’s ordered, it’s right into the kitchen and bar,” Nakashima said. “It really helps our servers. The old style where it’s written, it’s put on a paper, it’s put on a wheel, that’s real old school. We’re far beyond that.

“The writing on the wall is the future is going to have a lot of robotics,” Nakashima continued. “I think we’ve seen it most in Japan. You don’t really deal with anybody. Workers in the back are there, but you don’t see them. You put your order in a machine, maybe get a token for it. Next thing you know, your food is out and you will have very little interaction with a server or anyone.”

Economist Paul Brewbaker said he’s surprised it’s taken this long for technology to be used in restaurants in this way.

He says people will lose their jobs, but eventually they will find other opportunities. Jobs requiring less skill may disappear, but more jobs will be available in the tech field.

“It’s the future,” Flores said. “We cannot hide it, and we just got to accept it.”

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