Hey Companies! Food Robots Can Help Offset "Berserk" Lunch Prices for Your Employees
Smart fridges, smart vending machines and restaurants-in-a-box could be a big boon for offices.
OK. Before I begin, I understand that I already drafted off the back of a different Wall Street Journal piece over the weekend. And the theme for this post follows the same formula: The WSJ writes about a food/restaurant related problem, I write how robots could help. I promise to not make a habit of this.
Having said that, The WSJ posted a story yesterday by Rachel Wolfe with the headline “The Price of a Lunch Salad Went Berserk While You Were Working From Home.” In it, Wolfe writes about the sticker shock office workers are getting when grabbing lunch at work. From that article (subscription required):
Payments company Square calculated that the prices of standard lunch items within major cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, are skyrocketing. The average price of wraps is up 18% since last March, sandwiches are up 14%, salads have gone up 11% and burgers are costing an average of 8% more as of March 1, according to the company.
Reasons for this “berserk” pricing include increased labor costs and higher prices for ingredients. Given that higher prices are happening in just about every sector around the country, shelling out a few extra bucks for that vegan wrap shouldn’t come as too much a surprise. But after roughly two years of working from home and grabbing stuff from your fridge “for free,” paying exorbitant sums for meals is one more reason for people to work remotely.
Thankfully, this is where the robots come in.
For companies looking to lure workers back into the office, there are a number of automated food solutions coming to market and they all provide a number of benefits including:
Small footprints - They can be set up just about anywhere in an office building.
No build outs - These machines are standalone, so there is no need to build out cafeteria or staff it. Additionally, there aren’t the same logistics as getting meals catered.
Variety - Many of these options serve both hot and cold food, so they can serve breakfast lunch and dinner, and often meals can be customized to the user’s liking.
24/7 Service - Because they are unattended, these robots run all day and some can even serve different daypart meals like breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Lower cost lunches for the employee - Employers setting up these machines can choose to subsidize them as much as they like, so employees can buy food at a discount.
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Smart Vending Machines
These are not the boring old vending machines of our youth. Vending machines are increasingly sophisticated, serving a variety of fresh meals (both hot and cold) and drinks. For our purposes here, I’m defining smart vending machines as kiosks that serve one type of food (pizza, coffee, etc.). There are honestly too many to mention in this article, so you should check out OttOmate’s Vending Kiosk section for a complete picture of the space.
These are the latest entrant in the automated food space, but promise to upend office eating. Restaurants-in-a-box are self-contained and offer a variety of menu items and allow for customization. A number of players are coming to the market that make grain bowls, Asian cuisine, pasta, and more. Check out the OttOmate Guide to Standalone Autonomous Restaurants for a full list.
To be clear — I want local restaurants to survive! For a lot of downtown eateries, that means relying on office workers. If they need to ratchet up the price to stay in business, they should do it. And for those that can’t afford or don’t want to eat out every day, food robots like these could be a cost effective answer.
As a remote worker (and the only employee), grabbing lunch with co-workers is something I miss most about office life. After two years of seclusion and remote working, I imagine a lot of other office workers feel the same. Being able to get lunch and just be together in the same place can make all the difference on a dreary work day. If companies can step in and make those lunches more affordable, that’s a win-win for the workplace.