Nestled away in the bustling kitchens of fast food restaurants, robots are making their mark. As the pace of life gets faster and faster, robots are stepping up to the challenge of tirelessly delivering order after order with no compromise in quality, service, or efficiency.

The unstoppable rise of robots in fast food

The rapid integration of robots into the fast food sector has happened under the noses of many consumers who are unaware that a cold metal arm is flipping their burgers and dunking baskets of French fries in and out of vats of cooking oil.
Automated machines are experiencing a period of transformation where they are permeating human spheres faster than ever before. No longer restricted to solitary heavy-lifting tasks in warehouses, robots are now working alongside humans in many areas of life. From care companions to surgical assistants, robots are being programmed to meet a variety of human needs.

According to a recently published report by GlobalData, the global robotics market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17% between 2022 and 2030. By this time, the market will be valued at $217bn.

As a testament to the growing buzz surrounding robotics, investment in automation has boomed. In early October 2023, Doosan Robotics made a triumphant debut on South Korea’s stock exchange when it ranked the country’s largest IPO this year, having raised Won421.2bn ($317m). Doosan is making robots tailored to the service industry. In the days following the IPO, Doosan announced it had secured a partnership with Kyochon, one of South Korea’s largest fried chicken restaurant chains.

Other robot manufacturers are experiencing success in the fast food sector. In March 2023, Miso Robotics, headquartered in California, announced that its collaborative automatons have been installed in more than 100 restaurants.

Navigating the shift: The impact of robotics on the fast food workforce

In the US, the fast food sector is currently experiencing staffing shortages. According to the US National Restaurant Association, 62% of restaurants reported being understaffed while 92% described rising food costs as a serious threat. The combination of both these factors renders a robotic workforce increasingly appealing. A similar motivation exists in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore, where populations are ageing rapidly and labour shortages pose an escalating threat to a variety of sectors.

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In late 2022, McDonald’s opened its first almost fully automated restaurant in Texas. The futuristic store drew condemnation from many who criticised the fast food colossus for threatening the livelihoods of its human workforce. Nevertheless, Chipotle, White Castle, KFC and others have adopted robots in select restaurants.
Embellished with cute names such as Flippy, a fast food automaton produced by Miso Robotics, robots are disarming sceptical opponents. These machines are equipped with precise algorithms and can easily handle the orders of hundreds of famished restaurant patrons. While staff fear for their job security, consumers welcome the robotic revolution if it means shorter wait times.

Reskilling is a necessity in the era of automation

The growth of robotics in the restaurant sector presents a new paradigm in the nature of employment. Despite the many benefits robots bring to the table, their usurpation of roles that millions of humans depend on for their livelihood is a genuine cause for concern. Reskilling strategies are expected to become a high global priority going forward. As robotics spreads to both industrial and service sectors, one of the most important tasks for policymakers will be to harness the economic benefits of robotics while minimising the negative social impacts.