Inspired by pandemic-era social distancing and propelled by post-pandemic labor shortages, businesses are experimenting with taking humans out of the retail equation.
Case in point: I had lunch at the server-less Brooklyn Dumpling Shop this week. The three-week-old fast casual eatery in Manhattan's East Village has screens where patrons punch in their preferences, and then, when their food is ready, it appears in a cubby.
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I could see the chefs preparing my food — one order of classic pork dumplings and one order of the lamb gyro variety with yogurt sauce — behind a glass wall, but that was my only interaction with humans during lunch.
I've had better pork gyoza, but the lamb dumplings were pretty creative and quite tasty. I'll definitely go back for the Reuben and cheeseburger dumplings.
I asked Brooklyn Dumpling Shop founder Stratis Morfogen about the impact on automating all or parts of restaurants on jobs.
He said cutting down on payroll by using tech could allow many more eateries to keep their doors open — and that tech could at least save back-of-house jobs.
On top of that, it's a way to combat staff shortages in the service industry.
There's a long list of tech-infused shopping and eating experiences that take human workers out of the picture.
Amazon has popularized its checkout-less Go stores.
Reformation, a clothing boutique with locations in big cities, has screens in its dressing rooms that allow you to summon items to try on without dealing with a salesperson.
Kroger has an in-house innovation lab called Sunrise Technologies that's partnering with Microsoft to develop sensors and shelves that can automatically keep track of what needs restocking.
But, but, but: Machines are still very limited in what they can do, and often humans are still better at the job. Look at Walmart, which pulled inventory-tracking robots out of its stores after finding human workers were more efficient.
Of note: Brooklyn Dumpling Shop isn't exactly a new idea — it's a nod to the automats of the past, where food appeared in coin-operated kiosks.
Decor at the dumpling shop. Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios
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