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Are robots really that far away from making your next cocktail behind the bar?

The digital age has transformed our lives in countless ways how we interact and transact with one another.  Among these innovations are automated methods of completing transactions which were otherwise performed by people.  We have already become accustomed to the self-checkout lanes in many retail stores.   Billions of capital investment dollars have been pouring into other people-replacing technologies, such as kiosks at fast food restaurants.   Self-driving car technology is at our doorstep which could potentially replace anywhere from 1.7 million to 4.1 million jobs from truck drivers to ride sharing services.  The commonly heard fear of lost manufacturing jobs isn’t necessarily resulting from international trade deals, but the increasing use of robotics as a replacement for workers.

Robot Bartenders: Could this same trend make its way into your favorite bar?  The Financial Times showcased an entertaining, if not alarming, competition between a bartender and robot on who could make a Cosmopolitan faster.  Check out the 2-minute video below to find out who wins:

After witnessing those results, the bartender community can breathe a slight sigh of relief.  Although, bartender replacement is still a legitimate concern.   Bars with self-serve taps are making their presence known in places like San Diego, Denver, and New York.   The larger question is whether automated service stations or robotic bartenders could ever make a larger dent into more drinking establishments, synchronizing with the wider trend in other industries.    There are a couple notable differences that should shield bartenders from automated replacement.

First, ordering drinks is often not commoditized like ordering the #4 meal option at your local fast food restaurant.   Sure, you could program a set list of mixed drinks into a self-serve station or robot, but drink-making is often a tailored experience based on either the customer’s or bartender’s preferences which offers a more unique experience than other food and drink establishments.   Also as shown in the above video, it may not even be a faster process.

Second, automated self-serving taps may not necessarily be viewed as a replacement, but rather, a complement to bartenders and servers.   The novelty itself may intrigue customers to purchase more beer than they would otherwise.   In busy sports bars, for example, it could also present an easier option rather than waiting at the bar while bartenders are serving others.   This translates to more transactions and better accommodated customers.

Lastly, and perhaps most notably, one of the largest selling points of any bar is the personal interaction patrons have with their bartender.    After all, bars and nightclubs, being part of the wider hospitality industry, is predicated on the personal interaction and entertainment of clientele.   Other retail outlets and fast food establishments are almost purely transactional and don’t depend nearly as much on the personal interaction between employees and customers.

Fear not bartenders.   While you may walk into a fast food restaurant, manufacturing plant, or taxi without noticing many, if any, people serving or operating at some point in the near future, the personal interaction and unique service required within bars and nightclubs should ward off the robots from replacing people.

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