Off the Menu: Robotics, AI answer dishwasher shortage in restaurants

Ask a restaurateur what position would be a headache to fill, and you’ll probably be surprised by the answer. The answer is usually not a high-skilled job like a manager or chef, but that of a low-level dishwasher.

The first common step in the career ladder of the restaurant industry, the dishwasher, due to the decrease in the number of young people of the decade, has become a permanent head due to the restaurant jobs. Washing machine work is hot, dirty, and very unpleasant; in a tight labor market those looking for entry-level jobs have attractive options.

A restaurant can use “one man” if a waiter or line cook doesn’t show, but unfilled dishwasher slots can make it nearly impossible for a table service restaurant to do business.

Now, however, a combination of robotics and artificial intelligence promises a technology-based solution to the dishwasher shortage. Nala Robotics, an Arlington, IL-based kitchen automation company, has introduced Spotless, a robotic dishwasher.

Designed for high-volume operations, Spotless, according to its designers, can process dirty dishes from cleaning to storage, ready for reuse, at a speed that will eventually rival or exceed that of the most productive human dishwashers.

Spotless starts the dishwashing process by giving the tableware a quick wash or scrub to remove food waste. The system then uses a camera to recognize the object and access a library of algorithms that direct how its robotic arm continues to handle that plate, glass, or container.

Spotless requires a compact compact footprint; the technology, already used in several non-commercial kitchens, is rented from Nala on a monthly basis.

The current installation of the Spotless prototype works in conjunction with a human “programmer,” but Nala is convinced that the technology, thanks to machine learning, will soon become “humanless.” A video of Spotless in action can be viewed at

Nala Robotics has developed other robotic food service solutions such as Wingman, an automated deep-frying system, and PizzaAIola, a robotic “chef” that can make pizza, burgers, and more.

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Side dishes

Reflecting several economic changes, restaurant menu price growth slowed in December, which was welcome news for food service operators and the general public alike.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, industry-wide, menu prices rose 0.4% in December, much smaller than November’s 1.1% increase. Overall, restaurant menu prices increased by 8.3% in 2022.

December prices at full-service restaurants rose an average of 0.1%, while prices at limited-service restaurants fell 0.5% over the same period.

Among the factors that are said to have contributed to the price increase are the drop in fuel prices, inflation in the grocery and commodity markets, and a decrease in the demand for workers.

Restaurant labor cost growth continues to slow as more operators report “hiring,” a news environment that reduces labor competition and the resulting bid-rigging of wages that is causing a tightening labor market.


On Feb. 2, the Delaney House in Holyoke will be hosting a Wine & Dine event.

The four-course dinner, which will begin at 6 p.m., will feature wines from McPrice Myers Winery of Paso Robles, California, a label not yet available in East Coast retail locations.

A maple-rubbed pork shank will serve as the first course and will be followed by a spinach salad garnished with beet.

The essence of the evening’s entertainment is red wine paired with short ribs; for dessert a chocolate torte with berry coulis will be served.

Cost to attend is $69 plus tax and tip; reservations can be made online at

Delaney House can be reached at 413-532-1800.


The Windsor Locks Lions Club will be sponsoring a special “Dining in the Dark” evening event on Feb. 11, starting at 5 p.m.

To be held at the Skyline Restaurant in Windsor Locks, the meal is designed to give participants the opportunity to enjoy food in a new, off-the-peg way. Eye masks and bibs will be provided to each guest, and lighting in the restaurant will be reduced to minimal levels.

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Dinner participants will be offered four entrée options to choose from, and the menu will also include salad and dessert.

The cost to attend is $35, and eight to 10 tables can be reserved. Tickets are available online at

Contact Karen Doody at [email protected] for more information.


Today, the Ludlow High Culinary Team will be hosting a fundraiser at Vanished Valley Brewing Company in Ludlow.

Organized to support the team’s participation in national cooking, the fundraiser will bring together team members and Vanished Valley’s kitchen staff in a joint effort to prepare a special time-honored, Lion’s Pride Burger. Austin Acres roast beef topped with bacon jam, whiskey glaze, caramelized onions, and smoked gouda all wrapped in a brioche roll, the Lion’s Pride Burger will be served with a side of house fries.

The fundraiser will run from 3 to 9 pm Jan. 26, Vanished Valley donated a portion of all taproom food sales during the event.

Vanished Valley Brewing Company answers at 413-610-1572.


Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern at the Deerfield Inn in Deerfield is offering a chance to enjoy a range of craft ciders during its upcoming Adult Cider and Food Pairing event.

Scheduled for Feb. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m., the evening will feature ciders brewed by West County Cider, a Colrain-based operation. West County has a 35-year tradition of using harvests from orchards to produce highly regarded small-batch ciders.

The kitchen staff at Champney’s has created a menu designed to complement the five different West County cider bottlings. Offerings should include a pumpkin cider biscuit, assorted game sausages, grilled chicken and shrimp Alfredo, and apple bread pudding.

The cost to attend this event is $95 plus tax and credit; Reservations are required.

Contact Champney’s Restaurant and Tavern at 413-774-5587.


Skyline Beer Company in Westfield is hosting a Whisk Whisk(e)y Dinner on Feb. 6, starting at 3:30 pm.

The four-course whiskey and food pairing will be hosted by “Whiskey Pirate” Jay Cole, who will be providing tasting notes during the event.

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Dinner tickets are $60 plus tax and tip; they can be ordered online at or picked up in person at Skyline’s Southwick Road location.

Skyline Brewing Company answers at 413-378-3333.


Participating Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar locations currently offer three “all-you-can-eat” entrée options.

All You Can Eat Boneless Wings come with a choice of six different sauces, while All You Can Eat Riblets are served with the diner’s choice of Honey BBQ or Asian Chile sauce.

All You Can Eat Double Crunch Shrimp served with cocktail sauce; all three entree options come with coleslaw and fries.

These All You Can Eat Specials are available for a limited time. Contact individual Applebee’s locations to confirm availability at that particular restaurant.

Celebrity-focused news outlets have been abuzz lately with revelations from the red-haired British prince’s tell-all book and interviews.


A fast-casual restaurant chain in Cheshire, Conn. capitalize on all the hype and hype by releasing a limited-time only menu item. Wayback Burgers has introduced the Royal Silencer, a double-patty burger sandwich that includes a third “spare.”

Wayback’s president, Patrick Conlin, described the Royal Silencer as a sandwich designed to “fill mouths with bites and all to discourage spilling sensitive family drama on the media and the general public.”

In addition to its “two patties and a spare” design, the Royal Silencer includes American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard all stuffed into a bun.

This chain gave “official royals living in the United States” the Royal Silencer “in the house.”

There is a Wayback Burgers restaurant in Worcester on Tobias Boland Way and Northern Connecticut Wayback locations in Granby and East Windsor.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has nearly 50 years of restaurant and education experience. Robert can be found online at [email protected].


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