In New England, Robot Food Runners Show Why America Doesn’t Need Cheap Foreign Labor
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Who wants cheap foreign labor when robots can do the job for less money? Answer: Nobody who sees what’s happening to America. While automation has existed for generations, robots are becoming more common in the restaurant industry. They offer myriad advantages over low-wage foreign workers. They cost less, they don’t make mistakes because they don’t speak English, and they won’t replace the American workers they help yet are needed to supervise them. But replace foreign workers they can… and should.

Restaurants in Cambridge, Fairhaven, and other municipalities in Massachusetts are using robot food runners that became crucial to keep restaurants up and running during the COVID Scare. The robots not only can replace cheap foreign workers but also augment the time employees spend with customers by as much as 40 percent.

At one restaurant, “waitstaff have reported that they earn higher tips as well,” a report in the Boston Globe explained.

“This is not about replacing the actual servers in restaurants. Without a human, Servi isn’t helpful to anyone,” said company’s spokeswoman Alison Suzuki. The robot, she said, does the work that “no one wants to do. It’s the work that is the backbreaking part of a service industry job.”

Bear Robotics is one of several robotics companies that have seen interest in their products take off during the pandemic—White Castle uses an automated fryer called Flippy, sold by Miso Robotics, and Sweetgreen recently paid $50 million to acquire Spyce, a Somerville company that uses robots to make its salads and rice bowls.

And while some may fear that robots will replace humans at restaurants, Husbands says he’s not there yet. He says it’s more like the automation at airports and drugstores, with their self check-ins and check-outs. He’s also been working with local point-of-sale system Toast on QR codes customers can scan to order and pay at their tables, saving trips for waitstaff. The industry was already short-staffed before COVID, he said. “This is trying to solve for a labor situation that existed prepandemic.”

[A Kendall Square restaurant is experimenting with a robot server: ‘It’s a big help,’ by Janelle Nanos, January 3, 2022]

While the leftist Regime Media will never admit it, robots are another example of why America does not need more foreign labor.

Although businesses love exploiting cheap foreign labor, legal and illegal, robots are ultimately a better deal despite the initial capital cost: They can work longer hours without breaks, which means they save the restaurants money in wages. They’ll make fewer mistakes and are more dependable.

Robot food runners can produce up to 13 hours of work per day, or 91 hours per week [Robotic Food Servers Beneficial in Residential Healthcare Settings, Culinary Services Group, January 14, 2022]. The typical workweek in the United States is 40 hours. Even if a business wanted to exploit a foreigner and have them work 12-hour days seven days per week, that is only 84 hours per week.

Additionally, robot workers are substantially cheaper than foreign workers. Leasing Bear Robotics’ Servi robot costs $11,700 per year—less than $1,000 per month—while purchasing a Matradee from Richtech costs $21,600 [Robotic Food Servers Beneficial in Residential Healthcare Settings, Culinary Services Group, January 14, 2022].

Massachusetts has a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Hiring a full-time employee costs $31,200 in salary alone, before factoring in the employer half of the payroll tax and other employee expenses. For comparison, Servi can work more than double the hours of a full-time employee at one-third of the cost. If a company wants to spend big up front and buy a Matradee, they save even more. If a Matradee lasts even two years, it would offer about the same savings as a Servi, which works for less than $3 per hour. However, if the robot lasts three years, it could save an employer well more than $100,000. If a restaurant used two or three of these robots, it could double or triple its savings to $200,000 or $300,000.

Saving money by favoring robots over foreigners also frees up money for employers, making it possible for them to fill other jobs with better workers. Employers can offer Americans higher wages and benefits, including health insurance.

Plus, in an industry with razor-thin profit margins, saving money on labor costs by replacing foreigners with robots can help keep restaurants in business.

Language barriers coupled with the lower IQs of foreigners from places like Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East often lead to poor customer service. Thankfully, robots do not have that problem. They retain their programmed information and follow basic instructions typically without making mistakes. Of course, we just have to hope the same low-IQ foreigners are not programming the robots!

So while a foreigner might bring the wrong food to tables or drop food and plates, the robot is less likely to do so. The same person telling a foreign food runner where to bring the food can press a button and the robot can bring the food to the same table without an issue.

Robots also make owning and/or working in a restaurant easier. Americans who work in restaurants, education regardless, should not need to speak Spanish or another foreign language to coworkers to do a barely minimum-wage job. But for many young Americans, this is something they must do, making their jobs more difficult.

As well, workers require job training, vacations and sick leave, and they spread illness. Look at the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreaks from foreign farmhands not washing their hands. The people picking your lettuce do not know about germs. Do we want those people dealing our food in restaurants?

Plus, workers can quit jobs, get fired, and get arrested. Robots don’t have those problems:

“He shows up on time, he’s great,” Couto said. “No complaints. He also gets along well with our staff.” …

When asked whether [the robot] could eventually take jobs away from prospective hires, Couto said absolutely not.

“He’s not replacing staff,” Couto explained. “He’s no more of a replacement to staff than a calculator or a blender.”

[Meet Wall-E: Robot gives Fairhaven pub’s servers a second set of hands, by Sarah Doiron, WPRI, January 16, 2023]

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In an industry with an astronomically high turnover rate, dependable workers are vital. The average restaurant employee tenure in the United States is 110 days—less than four months [Why Overcommunicating With Restaurant Employees Can Lead to Higher Burnout, by Gary Stonell, FSR, January 31, 2023]. A robot will not burn out and quit or lose its job after a few months, which means a robot that replaces a foreign worker is one less problem to worry about. As well, robots will help diminish burn-out among other employees—Americans, we would hope—because they aren’t run ragged.

Given the choice between a foreign worker and a robot, American restaurants and other small businesses should embrace common sense and take the cheaper, more dependable option.

Ultimately, however, the U.S. government should not give employers that choice. It should offer restaurants three options: hire an American, a robot, or nobody.

The United States needs E-Verify to prevent businesses from hiring illegal aliens. It should cut low-skill foreign visas to prevent employers from having an endless pool of cheap foreign labor. An immigration moratorium is needed to close the spigot of cheap foreign labor.

Doing all these things would encourage restaurants and other low-wage businesses to use far more robots in retail, farming, housekeeping, landscaping, and other professions that foreigners are currently inundating.

Robots would help American workers, spur innovation in the automation industry (create better robots!), improve social cohesion… and reduce the risk of the GOP / GAP entering a permanent electoral winter.

Hank Johnson [Email him] is a student of New England politics and popular culture.

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