Are server-free restaurants the future of the food industry?

Categories: Coming Soon

diggity.jpg
Photo via Diggity Drive Up's Facebook
Diggity Drive Up, the new fast-casual concept by the folks who brought you Tavern and Atlas Grill, is out to revolutionize the way we order food. Their method? They're eliminating waitstaff altogether.

Instead of impatiently waiting for your server to return, only to change your mind over what kind of dressing you want with your side salad three times, all food orders will be placed using touch screens, iPhones, or personal tablets.

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After placing and paying for their orders, the machine spits out a ticket with an order number. Customers can then track their food's progress on one of Diggity's monitors or a personal iPhone. When a patron's food is ready, their number is called and the order can be picked up from the counter, which seems to be one of the only times customers will have the opportunity to interact with staff.

When diners order take-out, they'll pull into a designated parking spot, connect to Diggity's wireless, check in, and wait for one of their few paid staff members to bring the order out.

"You can order your food on the way here and [it will be ready] by the time you're here because ticket times are six to eight minutes," managing partner Anoush Ansari says.

Diggity Drive Up's futuristic system, which claims to be the first of its kind, will cut the need for restaurant employees by half, Tim Cary, the managing partner of Hemisphere Restaurant Partners told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Sure, the system costs six figures, but Cary says he's certain Diggity Drive Up will make up for lost funds in no time. If the concept is successful, Hemisphere Restaurant Partners will open three additional Diggity locations.

Though the concept is Jetsons-esque, the interior is anything but, harking back to a 1950s drive-in feel. Diggity's food will follow the same theme, with options like hot dogs, hamburgers, and malts, as well as pasta dishes.

"It's very intuitive, very flow friendly. I think customers will be amazed by the atmosphere and amazed by the technology," Cary told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. "I don't know if anyone will miss the server."

The appeal of the novelty factor is understandable, but the overall concept has frightening implications about the future of food service. Eating, in large part, is a communal activity. Replacing servers with computers promotes a disconnection and increased reliance on hand-held devices, encouraging diners to mess around on their phones instead of engaging with actual, real, live human beings.

And if the concept becomes widespread, where will our workers go? The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal speculated that the decision to cut tipped staff was made in response to the recent increase in minimum wage, based on Cary's claim that Diggity is "less beholden to labor."

"We didn't say 'Hey, let's come up with this concept so we can cut staff.' At the end of the day, there's only so much you can charge for a certain kind of food. Then after that, you either get people who are not interested in paying your prices because you want to make certain margins or you have to cut somewhere else. We didn't do this because minimum wage went up. We're trying to keep this affordable for our guests."

Still, Ansari added that the minimum wage increase has made it so "tipped employees are making more money than [their] managers."

Let's just hope we don't make Wall-E more of a reality than it already is.

Diggity Drive Up opens on July 17 in Coon Rapids.

Send your story tips to the author, Emily Eveland.



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46 comments
Sarah Greene
Sarah Greene

How is this different from Panera? You just order from a computer instead of a person but there are no servers there either. Or Chipotle, Fuddruckers, etc...

Mark Anderson
Mark Anderson

And this is why raising Minimum Wage to 10/hr. wasn't so smart. Lost jobs! Beer Machines at Target Field, Call centers in India taking your orders at drive up windows everywhere, cutting back on human staff! https://www.facebook.com/oneof35

Andrew Berg
Andrew Berg

With the number of introverted, antisocial people who shun interaction in Minnesota I can see server-free restaurants being a hit. And... no tip for the server.

dwayneolson7
dwayneolson7

Val's in St. Cloud has been doing touch screen ordering for a few years and when I get my food I can pay cash.  Also Sheetz has MTO, which is a touch screen ordering system and I saw that 5 years ago.

Amber Corbet
Amber Corbet

I prefer human interaction. It's too much already when friends sit on their phones while they're "hanging out" together. Technology malfunctions too!

BrettDuncan
BrettDuncan

There seems to be a great deal of misconception here provoked by the lack of understanding by the author as to the different niches in the restaurant industry.


Diggity is a Fast Casual restaurant, basically a good step up from a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR). Other Fast Casual concepts would include Qdoba, Chipotle, Panera and other concepts that serve quality food that is a good step up from QSRs (what we typically refer to as "fast food"), or they offer a different kind of experience that can't be had at a QSR. However, the majority of Fast Casual concepts don't typically employ servers to take orders or tend to guests. The main interaction with the guests at these establishments is with the workers preparing the food. 


By implementing self order, Diggity's isn't changing the formula for Fast Casual other than having a kiosk or mobile site take the order instead of someone standing at a register. This allows them to let all of their employees focus on giving guests the best food possible as quickly as possible. This greatly helps keep the operational costs down for the business, and food prices down for the guest. Is this profit-motivated, as one commenter posted? Perhaps. But isn't a restaurant a business? Isn't part of their purpose, other than delivering someone's vision of a cool concept, to make money while sharing that concept?


The misconception that many are having is that self order is going to replace servers at traditional dining establishments. Many traditional restaurants have tried this model and have failed, as people who go to traditional restaurants WANT traditional service. I can also decisively say (with a decade of experience in the restaurant industry both as both a server and bartender) that waiting tables is hard work and to be good at it requires organization, attention to detail, product knowledge, anticipation, the ability to multi-task and the ability to put on a big smile and deal with guests professionally - even at the busiest and most stressful times. 


Standing at a register and entering orders as people come through the door does not require the skills that a professional server or bartender possess, and Fast Casual concepts don't require servers by design. Generally, people don't go to a Fast Casual establishment expecting to be waited on; they are looking for (if you are like me) a better quality of food than what can be had at a QSR, but with the convenience of a QSR. When I want to be waited on and have a different kind of experience, I go to my traditional restaurants where I fully value the service brought by the professional waitstaff. I would also completely balk at the idea of ordering from an iPad at a traditional restaurant because I came there specifically for a different experience.


Self order isn't going to replace servers. However, it may replace the person whose sole function is to simply stand there at a computer terminal and perform data entry for the guest. Kiosks let the guest do this themselves, which has been shown to IMPROVE order accuracy and deliver a more personalized experience for the guest with less hassle. If you're like me and you highly customize your orders when you dine at these kinds of places, I get an eye-roll EVERY time when I modify my order. I have to say, it's awfully nice to not get that any longer.

jason.dorweiler
jason.dorweiler topcommenter

Ansari doesnt know what he is talking about regarding servers, but he does do a good job at hiding the very reasons he is implementing this system. More money in his pocket at the cost of great service. Good food speaks for itself, combine that with stellar service and you retain customers.

To his credit, Japan uses a similar system at ramen houses but these are qsr joints and in a complety different environment. I just dont see it working here. Good luck, i hate to see restaurants fail.

Steve Burgett
Steve Burgett

I hope not I like the one on one with the servers it feels good.

Meggan Rohret
Meggan Rohret

Yep - works just fine at the airport. Love it

imgadgett
imgadgett

nope not a server for years, just a customer, but last time i was in chili;s they showed me their new fangled order pad and asked if i would use it to order.  I declined, then told the manager that i would eat elsewhere  I told him that if their food wasn't good enough to hire people to serve it, i had a problem buying it.  I won't change my mind, I won't eat robot food,  Seems to me we'll get a better deal at the mom and pop restaurants that will gladly hire real people, since they serve  REAL FOOD

Mel UgoFurst
Mel UgoFurst

Robots ask for nothing. Pity it came to this.

Lex Lambent
Lex Lambent

maybe no "formal" education...but experience is education in itself. and most serving positions that are worth taking require you to have that experience....at least in my experience.

Mel UgoFurst
Mel UgoFurst

regardless, this is where we are headed as wage demands grow. Replacements in the form of automation.

Danielle Copeland Bethke
Danielle Copeland Bethke

I've never expected more than a meager hourly wage. But "unskilled job" is not the term I'd use. As a former server, you should know that, unless you were a shitty server, of course. I believe that good servers are quite skilled. It's obviously far from brain surgery, but not everyone could wait tables and do it well.

Julie Sweep
Julie Sweep

Who are you going to get recommendations from? Who is going to make sure your food allergen or special request is going to be taken care of accurately? Who are you going to complain to if your order comes out wrong? Who is going to get your drink refills, extra condiments, or desserts? Who are you going to blame/ask when you don't like something or thought you rang in a different entree and want something comped or taken off the check? Seriously folks, servers WILL be missed.

Mel UgoFurst
Mel UgoFurst

When I was starting out. Starting out... never intended it to be my life long career. And did not expect, nor felt entitled to, more than non skilled entry level wage.

Danielle Copeland Bethke
Danielle Copeland Bethke

Come to work with me on a Friday night. Take over my section. Then we'll see how your skills rate.

Andrew Berg
Andrew Berg

With the number of introverted people who shun social interaction in Minnesota I can see server-free restaurants being a hit.

Lex Lambent
Lex Lambent

when efficiency starts to outweigh humanity, it's called greed.

Ruth Kashmark
Ruth Kashmark

Who are you gonna complain to when your order comes out wrong or you want a refill on your soda? Or another beer? Next it might be your job taken over by technology. Slippery slope.

balance55113
balance55113

Pretty soon we will live in a bubble,order everything off an Ipad, get fat and never have any human interaction with human beings....Actually no"Fuck that"!!!

Gpapes Amelia Salamander
Gpapes Amelia Salamander

This concept was already invented, McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell. Anything to cut back on human interaction that in fact, makes us human.

Dan Krzykowski
Dan Krzykowski

Of course. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves, at least for casual dining. I want the menu with details as I need them (technology beats people), I want accuracy (technology beats people), I want speed (technology beats people). As technology improves, the market will be tested, and prices will approach the marginal cost of preparing food, which is what we're buying. And thank God. Serving isn't easy, but we're definitely sinking way too much human capital into something that provides little value.

Tammy Belka
Tammy Belka

Amazed about an iPad? What is this, 2008?

Mel UgoFurst
Mel UgoFurst

yes, as people demand high wages for entry level unskilled jobs. This was bound to happen.

elliansari
elliansari

@BrettDuncan 


Brett, you are SPOT ON! 


The author of the article seems to not know that classics like dogs and beef sandwiches aren't usually served up  table side by legions of the much appreciated and skilled service professionals working in full service establishments. Maybe she didn't have a chance to visit. And, she forgot  to ask a couple of really important questions:


1. How do customers benefit from the integration of affordable, scratch  made food, service and technology?


2. How many NEW jobs now exist as a result of this new restaurant?


qwere
qwere

I recommend you stay at home you stupid whiny bitch

elliansari
elliansari

You can have human interaction with the person behind the counter or at the drive-up window at a fast food place....you just have to smile and acknowledge them, and be glad they came to work...


Technology does not  take that very human opportunity away from you

You just have to do your part...

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