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Robots in restaurants and retail increase amid labor crunch

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Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero details the increasing use of robots and automation by restaurants and retailers amid the pandemic and resulting labor shortage.

Video Transcript

- Well, the robot workforce is on the rise. I'm sure you've seen it. Retailers, restaurants turning to robots and other technology to keep up with demand in a tight labor market. And for more on this, we have Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero here with a closer look at the rise of the robots in the labor market. Dani.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, Zack. These retailers and restaurants have really been under a lot of pressure to attract labor, especially for most of the pandemic. According to a survey from the National Restaurant Association, restaurant operators have said that-- 77% have said that they didn't have enough workers to really meet the demand. So that really showcases what's really going on right. And so many of them have really turned to technology to fill in that gap and also help them stay afloat.

And like you said, a lot of restaurants, local restaurants, and retailers have now turned to kiosks. I'm sure you've seen them around town. A well-known one is Sprinkles Bakery, that's cupcake chain, is now using a kiosk system to really keep up with online orders. And this is how it works. And so customers no longer have to wait in line. They type in their order in that tablet. They swipe their card and wait for an employee to help them retrieve that order.

It all started during the pandemic to really help with social distancing. But instead, the Austin-based company found that it was effective. And so they decided to implement it for good. But like I said, it's not the only business that's really doing this. Others are really stepping up their game, their investments in robots, and also other technology.

Walgreens, for example, is using automation to fill prescriptions. Starbucks also made the move in New York City to swap out cashiers for tablets. And just over the weekend, I was at a local grocery store. And I accidentally spilled my kombucha. And before I could even react, a robot came by and wiped it away. And so it was really interesting to see not only that a robot cleaned up my mess, but the other side of it that workers didn't really have to react. We knew that they had that extra help. And it's this robot that came by and actually picked up my mess.

And so Sam's Club is also testing out an attachment with a camera that scans inventory and can flag if an employee needs to restock or rearrange the shelf. Another interesting point is that restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings, White Castle are also testing out these robots to see if they can flip that burger or even make that chicken wing.

So the environment is changing, and it's happening now. Zack.

- Yeah. Sad to hear you drop the kombucha, that's no good. But when we think about how the years gone, you've been highlighting it for us kind of the union movements and the strikes that we've seen, not just from John Deere, but also recently Starbucks. And you talk about the tablets there. And who really has the upper hand is the big question, right? I mean, obviously, the strike, you might be able to get what you want in the short term. But if the solution for higher wages is just replacing you with a tablet, in the longer run, that might not be the case. So who do you see as kind of having the best negotiating power here?

DANI ROMERO: That's a really good point, Zack. But it's still really too early to say, especially for those mom and pop shops. It would really take a lot of an investment to really turn into technology. And at times, it could even really change the whole small business in general. So but the bigger question, I think, really comes down to how well will these businesses integrate that technology throughout the lifetime of their business.

And so here's what one expert had to say about that. Take a listen.

MOLLY HARNISCHFEGER: There's a lot of restaurants have looked to work with a variety of different fields to be able to get off premise orders, whether that's from third party aggregators or directly from other softwares that do first party orders. And as a result, a lot of restaurants are in this conundrum, where they're managing a lot of different technologies for orders, which they're trying to expand their market share, but then there's a challenge of being able to manage some of the complexity of that.

So I think the next, we're going to see a push in the next phase of this tech lifestyle, really towards the integration of all of these different standalone technologies.

DANI ROMERO: So you can really hear it there that it really will come down to how well, like I said, these businesses will have to integrate those third party vendors as well as first party, when they tell you to go log into their app and pick an order or make an order. So there's that part of it too, right? Zack.

- Yeah, I mean, it's all different when you've just watched "The Matrix" to be having this discussion and where we're going longer term here. But Dani Romero, bringing us the latest there, dropping kombuchas. Keeping robots employed, appreciate you bringing us the latest there.