Automation in Restaurants: A Chat with WorkJam’s Joshua Ostrega


Automation in restaurants is a continually evolving trend, increasing efficiencies for early adopters. As a COO of a company that is using technology to improve employees’ experiences, Joshua Ostrega, from Montreal, Canada’s WorkJam, has an inside view on the root cause of the increase of automation in restaurants. His application connects employees with their employers and helps them manage their schedules, distribute training materials and feel like an integral member of a team instead of just an employee. We wanted to pick Ostrega’s brain as to whether there can be compromise between man and machine.

What is the difference between the automation of an app like WorkJam and things like computer kiosks at fast food restaurants?

Well there are two types of automation. There is automation with respect to workforce management which is what we are doing. Then there is automation on the consumer side where there is automated interaction with the customer. We believe at WorkJam that employees need to remain viable.

How does front of the house automation help employers?

Automation has helped organizations cut costs because they can cycle through more customers. An ordering system in a fast food restaurant can help at peak times and you don’t need as many people behind the cash register.

Do you think this is a result of the minimum wage increases?

I think whether or not minimum wage went up automation would have continued to find its way into the customer experience because it helps to cut costs. That being said, good, personalized service  is still a critical part of the service industry. The only way to  provide quality service is still through human interaction.

Do you believe automation machines will ever completely push out human employees?

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30 years ago we started bringing computers into restaurants and everyone said no one would have jobs anymore. Obviously that never happened. What it did do is take a lot of unnecessary tasks out of the hand of humans. It allowed employees to take on new responsibilities and jobs that we know think of in the service industry today. I think what is happening with automation in food service is very similar. It won’t change the need for human interaction. In fact, the need for a good customer experience is only increasing. In a place like Starbucks people expect a warm and welcoming individual who will remember them when they come in. So yes automation may play an important role in getting an order in quickly and efficiently but people don’t want to be served by a vending machine.

Do you think consumers still place value in a good service experience?

I hear anecdotally from a number of people who say they appreciate places that provide good service. That being said they probably won’t wait for twenty minutes at a coffee shop just because there is good service because people’s time is valuable.

But where automation can help is that if the flow of traffic is managed well and people can order in a timely fashion, they appreciate good service from the barista and other employees. I think it does make a difference and people do gravitate toward places that are both well run and have good people who interact positively with them.

How could automation actually help employees?

For example, it can help the business during peak periods. If there is a computer where someone can place their order and it avoids the restaurant from hiring somebody for three hours and then send them home, that makes the lives of employees better. It makes their lives less chaotic.

Additionally something like a mobile app at a sit down restaurant could make the whole consumer experience better. If I go and sit down at a restaurant and have already ordered by the time my waiter comes over, we have cut out the five or ten minutes it takes for me to look over the menu. That waiter now turns tables quicker so he’s happier and I have a quicker lunch. Automation will evolve over time just like everything else and continue to get better.

Thanks for chatting with us Joshua!