Economic Perspective: Automating Restaurants

NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Dr. Mike Walden working in a recording studio.



“Today’s program looks at automating restaurants. Mike, one of the industries most used by consumers is restaurants. Also, one of the biggest changes coming to businesses is automation. Now let’s put these two together and ask how is automation going to change the restaurant industry.”


“Well this is a topic very close to my heart because my very first paying job was flipping hamburgers in a fast food restaurant about 50 years ago, and clearly restaurants have changed dramatically over those five decades.”

“For example, if you look at some of the innovations today using technology there are some restaurants where you don’t order your meal by talking to a person. You order it at a kiosk. Of course we’ve seen that for a long time at drive-thrus. You pay, for example, not to a person, but you pay through a tablet at your table.”

“Now, many see another change coming to restaurants. In fact, in Japan what we’re seeing are robots that are doing the job that I used to do: flipping hamburgers. We’re also seeing automated drive-thru windows. Of course, the attraction of automation is reliability and productivity. Also robots don’t have to take time off, and they can perform a task much more routinely, quicker and consistently.”

“Now the big question that comes out of this is automation increasing so much in restaurants are millions of workers going to be put out of work? Some economists say yes, others say no. They say that what’s going to happen is that restaurants are going to redeploy their workforce, and you’re going to have more people giving customers more specialized services whereas those mundane tasks are going to be done by automation. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University who teaches and writes on personal finance, economic outlook and public policy.

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.

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