There are now three certainties in life: death, taxes and automation in the workplace.

Robot-heavy Zume Pizza is preparing its kitchen employees for the tech economy, but will other companies care as much about displaced workers?



 

Like death and taxes, increased automation in the workplace is now one of life’s troubling certainties. This month’s cover subjects, Julia Collins and Alex Garden of Zume Pizza in Mountain View, California (“Rise of the Robots”, page 30), have no doubts, and they’re ready, designing and building machines that can do just about anything a person can do in the pizza kitchen, with the exception (so far, at least) of dreaming up original recipes. Zume is on the cutting edge of restaurant automation, and Collins says its delivery model—which includes huge trucks equipped with computer-operated ovens that bake pies en route to the customer’s doorstep—can be adapted to accommodate other foods, too.

But many in the pizza industry say that doesn’t compute. Pizza, they say, is not some widget to be hammered out by robotic arms on a factory line. Making pizza for your customers—a frazzled, hardworking mother of three, a team of Little Leaguers, the local police officers who keep your hometown safe—is, in a way, a sacred act, a meaningful exchange between the pizza maker and the patron that’s about more than money. From stretching the dough to ladling and spreading the sauce and piling on the toppings, pizza, they believe, is meant to be made by human hands.

Others lament that reliable employees with heartbeats are increasingly rare. Minimum wage hikes in some states and cities are cutting into already razor-thin margins, and finding people willing to work hard for that money feels like a never-ending struggle. If people don’t want to work, why not let machines take over? With the right recipes and ingredients, a good pizza is a good pizza, whether made by metal claws or flesh-and-blood hands.

The sanctity of pizza making aside, the big question is, where will the jobs go when robots make everything for us? Collins and Garden say they’re teaching Zume’s kitchen employees other skills, such as coding, to prepare them for the inevitable tech-based economy. Will those who follow in their footsteps care as much about displaced workers? Can the pizza industry still be a people business if people aren’t making the pizzas? It’s too early to shout, “Danger, Will Robinson!” but we’ve got a lot to figure out—and that’s for certain.

 

Edit Module

Tell us what you think at or email.

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Should You Be Buying New Equipment Before the Tax Year Ends?

Mike Rassmussen breaks down the do's and don'ts of equipment purchases prior to December 31.

Chef's Corner | Shawn Randazzo Explains His Philosophy Behind Detroit-Style Pizza

Shawn Randazzo, master of the Motor City pizza, teaches you all you need to know about Detroit-style pies so you don’t have to hear it through the grapevine.

December 2018: The 2019 Pizza Power Report and more!

Detroit-style pizza, cheese trends, chicken wings and more marketing tips.

Quick-Fire Questions with The Dough Doctor

Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann provides rapid-fire responses to operators’ minor dilemmas.

Make Your Wing Sales Soar With These Insights From Operators

Chefs report on the hottest flavor trends and innovative cooking techniques for pizza’s best companion: the chicken wing.

The Best Local Marketing to Find You Long-Term Pizza Customers

What cheese trends are taking off in restaurants across the country? Experts and operators weigh in.

Your restaurant should be making the most out of your cheese choices.

Detroit-Style Is Motown's Favorite Pizza

Airy dough, crispy crust and signature caramelized cheese makes Detroit-style pizza an instant winner on any pizza lover’s list.

The 2019 Pizza Power Report: A State-of-the-Industry Analysis

To stay competitive in the pizza business in 2019, independents will have to meet customers’ growing demand for speed, customization, delivery and convenience.

How to make the most of your mozz

A staple at every pizzeria, mozzarella shines for its versatility in everything from apps and salads to pizza and pasta.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags