Technology Can Help Ease Labor Shortage

Food-making robots and temp hiring apps help struggling operators in a tight hiring market.

June 14, 2021

Robot worker in a c-store

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Restaurants are seeing up uptick in in-person dining even as digital orders for delivery and carryout are still going strong, leaving foodservice operators struggling to hire enough staff to meet the demand. According to, the rapid growth in digital orders plays a part in the ongoing labor shortage, but technology also may be part of the solution.

“Digital orders means that you can get many, many more orders instantaneously than you could ever get with a walk-in, a call-in or a sit-down customer base,” said Clayton Wood, chief executive officer at Picnic, a Seattle company that produces automated food preparation systems and is rolling out its flagship Picnic Pizza System. “It’s an operational challenge … but it’s an opportunity for those who can get the right technology applied.”

Picnic’s pizza-making robot assembles pizzas once the dough is prepared and then tops them with sauce, cheese and additional items.

Without automation, Wood said, it is difficult to fulfill high order volumes with consistent quality “unless you throw just a whole bunch of people at the problem.” And businesses that are not able to hire enough workers or incorporate automation miss the sales opportunity and risk frustrating hungry customers.

To use the Picnic hardware and software, operators pay a monthly fee, which Wood said is offset by savings on food waste, labor and workload.

In the past year, the number of and types of food preparation robots have grown. DoorDash recently acquired food prep automation company Chowbotics, and since then the company’s Sally salad-making robot has continued to expand to new locations.

Wood feels the best kitchen-automation technologies are robots that perform noncomplicated, repetitive tasks that require a degree of detail-orientation. The ghost kitchen trend will increase the demand for this kind of automation, as restaurants begin branching off their digital order fulfillment into separate businesses, Wood explained.

“[Ghost kitchens are] selling either prepared food ready to eat or prepared food ready to cook—that food doesn’t need to be prepared in a restaurant, and that’s a real change,” he said. “Now you’ve got the opportunity to be producing much higher volumes much more efficiently than you can do in a restaurant, where you’re trying to do a really wide variety of dishes with a very small team.”

Other technology is helping foodservice managers provide services to customers help in a labor market crunch, reports CNBC.

To tackle the ongoing foodservice worker shortage, William Dissen, executive chef and owner of Haymaker in Charlotte, N.C., has turned to GigPro, an on-demand hiring app, that helps him fill temporary positions, such as line cooks or dishwashers. “It has really been amazing for our business to be able to fill the gaps when we need it,” he said.

Managers may offer higher pay for last-minute workers. For example, if a dishwasher’s typical hourly rate is in the $15 per hour range, the manager may offer to pay $20 per hour on GigPro. “I’ve literally filled gigs at our restaurant within five minutes of posting,” he said.