Consumer use of food service robotics varies

As labor issues force a growing number of foodservice operators to turn to automated solutions, businesses in different countries face vastly different landscapes when it comes to preparing consumers for new technologies.

Take, for example, Yo-Kai Express, a self-catering company with operations in the United States, Japan, and Taiwan. Amanda Tsung, the company’s chief operating officer, spoke to PYMNTS about the adoption gap between Japan, where the company only announced its launch last month, and the United States, where the company has been around for years.

“In Japan, because it’s a mecca for vending machines, I see more participation,” she said. “People are more likely to try it for the first time than compared to the United States. Like, I saw a 75-year-old man walk up to our machine in Japan and try it. …I thought that was quite interesting.

Admittedly, the commoditization of various technologies varies greatly from country to country, and the rate of consumer adoption also depends on the region, according to data from the February study of PYMNTS, the Global Digital Shopping Index 2022 , created in collaboration with Cybersource.

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For example, the study, which draws on six census-balanced consumer panels in six key markets totaling more than 13,000 and a survey of 3,000 merchants in those countries, finds that while 81% of merchants in Mexico offer voice purchase options, only 54% in the US do the same. Similarly, while 53% of consumers in the UAE use Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) options, only 28% of those in the UK do the same.

Certainly, research from the 2022 Global Digital Shopping Playbook: US Edition reveals that US businesses tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to digitalization. The study found that while small and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs) in all countries generated 57% of their sales through digital channels, 71% of US SMB sales were made through these channels.

Generational differences

Although he noted faster adoption in Japan, Tsung said consumers of all age groups are still trying the technology in the United States as well.

Older consumers are slower to adopt new ways of ordering food, according to data from PYMNTS’ 2021 How We Eat Playbook, created in collaboration with Fiserv’s Carat, which is inspired by a panel survey Census-balanced over 5,200 US adults. The study found that while 76% of consumers place restaurant orders online for pickup, only 62% of baby boomers and seniors do the same, and while 47% of all consumers order online. line for delivery, less than half of that share (23%) of baby boomers and seniors do the same.

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Ready or Not

While some restaurants are rushing to automate, others are hesitant about fully self-contained vending machine-type models like Yo-Kai. Tsung recalls that “existing food and beverage operators think they’re just not open to it yet,” adding that those companies “just can’t understand food automation.”

Certainly, there is a wide range of automated technologies, and a restaurant may be willing to adopt, say, an automated kitchen assistant without becoming fully autonomous.

The January edition of PYMNTS’ Main Street Index study, “The Main Street Index: Optimism Amid Inflation Edition”, created in collaboration with Melio, which is based on a late fall survey of of 765 Main Street US business owners, revealed that 29% of businesses in the food, entertainment and lodging segment said they are “very” or “extremely” likely to invest in the automation/robotization of tasks that currently require manual labor.

See also: Two-Thirds of U.S. Main Street Businesses Show Optimism Despite Inflation, Economic Uncertainty

The all-hours model

While Yo-Kai currently operates its own automated restaurants, the company’s vision for the future includes powering vending machine-style locations for existing restaurants to drive additional after-hours sales. opening.

“We can…work with restaurants, bringing their signature dishes to our platform so they can enjoy them anywhere there’s a Yo-Kai machine, so that…gives them another source of income,” Tsung said.

In this way, the technology resembles what robotics company Tortoise is doing with its Mobile Smart Stores, traveling vending machines that aim to give merchants the ability to sell more items in new geographies and at times when the store is closed.

Read more: Last-mile delivery company Tortoise turns to mobile vending machines

Such models can be useful, especially since labor constraints are forcing many restaurants to close early, leaving some of the demand unmet.

“In America, … things close relatively early, and getting something delicious from a distance is very difficult in the middle of the night,” Tsung said, “so I think we … complete [existing] good enough restaurants.

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