As restaurants deal with staff shortages, one is using robots to help out

For months the restaurant industry has been battling staffing shortages - and relief doesn't seem to be on the horizon.

According to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, about 87 percent of food service operators say they currently do not have enough employees to support existing customer demand.

"It’s almost detrimental," said LaTanya Graddy. "With Covid and the labor shortages, it’s harder with some of us doing multiple jobs. Some of us are accommodating like five to six positions in one shift."

Graddy is the manager at Beans and Cornbread in Southfield.  She says the shortage of workers from cooks to bartenders, has forced management to make adjustments - like cutting four hours of operation from the schedule.

Beans and Cornbread also put up a sign asking patrons for patience.

A few miles away in Madison Heights, management at Noodle Topia found another way to deal with the waitstaff shortage. Two robots - Bella and Hola are now part of the work team.

"It helps a lot with the shortage of the employees for sure," said Lee Zhai, the owner. "This one is delivering the food to each table."

As Bella is programmed to serve patrons, robot Hola is programmed to help clean.

"Like busboy clear the dishes trash, and once it clears a table it goes back to the dishwashing machine and the trash can," said Zhai.

Lee, who is also a distributor for the company behind these robots, says the average cost of one robot is about $800 a month. You can lease to own and you don’t have to pay employee benefits.

Customers are also impressed.

Lee is also looking into robotic technology to chop food

"It’s not 100 percent  to occupy a person’s position but it helps a lot," he said.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association released this statement:

"Workforce is the biggest challenge for the hospitality industry today with our most recent operations data showing that 87 percent of operators say they currently do not have enough employees to support its existing customer demand. The MRLA is laser-focused on providing solutions to this challenge. The Association has done so by launching an industry-specific Job Board that hosts hundreds of open job postings and is then broadcasted statewide.

"We also secured grant funding to bring the HOPES (Hospitality Opportunities for People (re)Entering Society) program to Michigan, are advocating for hospitality workforce support through the not-yet-appropriated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds signed into law last spring, and is in the process of creating an educational pipeline to the future of our industry."

President & CEO Justin Winslow