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Dumplings, yes. Servers, no

·2 min read

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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