Work: Fighting the shortage of skilled workers with the cooking robot

The new chef at the Favoritenplatz Hotel in Grömitz near Lübeck has already mastered pasta and rice dishes.

Work: Fighting the shortage of skilled workers with the cooking robot

The new chef at the Favoritenplatz Hotel in Grömitz near Lübeck has already mastered pasta and rice dishes. “But he could just as easily make a currywurst or a sushi bowl,” says hotelier Niels Battenfeld. It's not a human doing the cooking here, but a robot. Battenfeld spent 250,000 euros on the four by two meter machine, which he uses to defy the shortage of skilled workers in the industry.

At first contact, the guests were still skeptical, Battenfeld admits. “On the second day it’s completely natural.” You order via app or on the display on the machine, the machine then throws the pre-cooked ingredients into the pot and prepares the food fresh. “Just like a real chef,” says Battenfeld. Of course, the robot is not a star chef, but it can manage up to 100 portions per hour. The short menu of just six dishes is expected to quickly grow to 15 to 20. Up to 120 would be possible.

With the cooking robot, Battenfeld is still exotic. But he is not alone with the problem that hotels and restaurants can hardly find employees anymore. The German Hotel and Restaurant Association Dehoga estimates that there is a nationwide shortage of 65,000 employees in the hospitality industry. This is currently the biggest problem for the industry, says Enno Schmoll, who teaches tourism economics at the Jade University in Wilhelmshaven. “And it is not yet foreseeable that this will fundamentally change.” According to a Dehoga survey from December 2022, almost three quarters of those surveyed have already had to restrict their opening hours, and almost half had reduced the offerings on the menu.

Up to 11,000 euros in bonuses

In order to find employees at all, some hoteliers are taking drastic measures. The Landhotel Gut Thansen in Soderstorf in the Lüneburg Heath is offering a bonus of up to 11,000 euros for new chefs and late-night service staff, which is paid out over three years. So far he has been able to recruit two chefs and a waitress, reports managing director Philipp von Stumm.

The Munich hotel chain Ruby has been recruiting new employees with free tattoos since mid-2022. “In the first few months of the campaign we immediately had 25 percent more applications,” reports spokeswoman Kristin Lingner. Including many career changers who the campaign wanted to specifically attract. "Gastronomy is still considered a bit outdated; many people don't want tattoos to be seen." Things are different with Ruby. “We wanted to show that with the campaign.”

However, tourism expert Schmoll doesn't think much of pure welcome bonuses. "If someone comes for money, he will leave again for money." Soft factors such as working conditions and team spirit are more important. And how new employees are welcomed at their place of work. “You have to give them the opportunity not only to work where others go on vacation, but also to live there,” says Schmoll.

Four-day week introduced

The four-day week with the same weekly working hours has recently proven successful here. Companies that have introduced them have no longer had a labor shortage since then, reports Schmoll. “It still works, but it can’t be implemented for everyone.” However, he finds it difficult to imagine that service robots will one day close the gaps. "When I'm on vacation, I need the human element. You won't be able to replace that with robots."

Hotelier Battenfeld, on the other hand, is convinced of his concept, which he now wants to roll out to all twelve locations of his small hotel chain, Favoritenplatz. "The robot should not replace people, but rather relieve them." The house in Grömitz is anything but deserted, despite the robo-cook and automated check-in. It is true that up to a third less staff can be used. "But that wasn't the main goal. We always need people so that the soul of the house doesn't fall by the wayside."

There are still twelve employees in the house in Grömitz, which opened in July, including a cook and two other kitchen staff. The only difference is that they now take care of logistics and quality control and no longer spend the whole day at the stove themselves. “This will change the job profile,” hopes Battenfeld. "And that makes the job interesting again."

But a dream for him will sometimes remain unfulfilled: "My wish would be a housekeeping robot," says Battenfeld, who trained as a hotel manager himself. "It's really a hard job." So far, no manufacturer has managed to develop a robot that not only vacuums and mops, but also makes the beds, cleans the bathroom and takes out the garbage. “That would be a jack of all trades.”