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How robots can make humans — and restaurants — better

It all comes down to service

The restaurant industry wrings its hands a bit when talking about automation and technology. We are a business built on hospitality. On humans. On feeding our human guests the fuel they need not only to survive, but also to arguably make life worth living.

What are we serving — especially in the full-service space — if we aren’t serving friendly service with a smile?

This tension isn’t new in restaurants. I flipped through the NRN archives from 1971 and quickly found an magazine editorial defending the “self-service” trend. Self-service, in that case, was using things like the salad bar, the fondue menu and the build your own dessert.

“The smartest operators, however, are going a step further. They are saying to themselves ‘Sure these devices allow me to cut my labor and maybe speed turnover. But they also allow me, if I seize the opportunity, to become more proficient in those services that I must still provide. To do a better job in customer-to-employee relations. To make more solid contact with customers, not less,’” wrote the NRN editors in 1971.

Shortcuts — and technology in modern terms — can free us up to focus on what’s important. I think we can all agree with that. After all, most of us don’t grow our own food.

On, you’ll read about the ways casual-dining restaurants are using new tools to compete in a saturated market. Right now the segment has been suffering from its in-betweenness. Not convenient enough and often not as great of an experience as it could be.

From the next generation of tablets to third party partners to wait-time apps, this feature by NRN’s newest senior editor Nancy Luna looks at what tools are really moving the needle at full-service restaurants.

“Technology when it helps the guest. Humanity when it’s better for the guest,” said Paul Motenko of Stacked, a restaurant chain that has a build-your-own experience tablet ordering system. 

Shortly before publication I was chatting with a company called Venga that works with reservation systems to make profiles of guests. Using these types of tech partners, restaurants can now make all servers remember what’s important to the guests — where a customer likes to sit or that Joe Schmoe really likes a certain type of wine at a certain price point.

What’s more human than that?

These sorts of products are the tip of the iceberg for restaurants. Technology isn’t just a limited-service thing. It’s a service thing.

Contact Jenna Telesca at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JennaTelesca

TAGS: Technology
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