While automation can alleviate labor shortages in the hospitality industry, how do you build customer loyalty?


Every day we are surrounded by automation. Some we take for granted, like self-serve in supermarkets or online banking. But as the pandemic continues, some in the hospitality industry have adapted their businesses and are turning to automation to create a contactless experience.

RC Coffee Robo Café popped up in Toronto’s Kensington Market last July in one of the neighborhood’s vacant storefronts. With bright blue and yellow signage inviting customers to step up, customers can order premium cafe-style beverages – from espresso to chai lattes – from the robot barista using the kiosk’s intuitive touchscreen or via the RC Coffee mobile app.

“This makes for a coffee of phenomenal caliber served to perfection every time,” said General Manager Brad Ford, explaining that when most think of an automated coffee concept, they might think of a vending machine on an ice rink. hockey player or at a laundromat. “The development of this concept began three years ago, then last September, after nearly five years of research and development, we opened our first point of sale in Yorkville. Here, customers can observe the inner workings through a clear plexiglass window, giving full access to the robot arm at work, dosing and stuffing coffee, in a quick and Instagrammable moment.

“I think that’s part of the reason COVID has accelerated technology by maybe five to 10 years in terms of technology adoption. What we’re seeing with robotics is that it can really speed up and facilitate operations, and help provide a truly contactless pickup experience, ”said Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing.

A recent Restaurants Canada survey found that 80 percent of food service operators had difficulty hiring kitchen staff and 67 percent had difficulty filling service, bartending and accommodation positions. According to a report by The Conversation website, restaurant workers across Canada are fleeing the industry. “I think that could be the whole redistribution of the workforce and, in my opinion, stand-alone solutions (with automation) make a lot of sense,” McArthur said. She indicates how many Starbucks have closed this year alone and says that will be part of our new normal.

Ford says RC Coffee’s mission has never been to replace barista jobs, but to “provide an alternative to traditional coffee” with something fun and interactive in a post-pandemic world. But Fraser Greenberg, owner of Milky’s Coffee on Dundas and Bathurst Streets, believes you can provide something fun and interactive for your customers, and it doesn’t need to be automated. Their cafe, which is “just bigger than a king-size bed,” relies on a few things to make it work: good coffee and community building.

Greenberg explained, “There’s an atmosphere and a vibe that you create and a lot of those things don’t require a lot of space to achieve. They need the right people.

In fact, smaller footprint stores can often produce big results and build customer loyalty. “It’s a lot harder to have a small space, of course,” Greenberg added. “But at the end of the day, we want people to stay and spend time with us, we want to talk to them and get to know them and their life. We’re really encouraged by this kind of community… if we had a robot it just wouldn’t be the same.

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