• caledoniawright

Therbligs vs Robots

Picture this; you’re wandering the streets of Lower Manhattan, and your friend coerces you into a deli saying, “I gotta surprise for you...”. They grab the fridge door to fetch you a soda…but to your disbelief, it opens to reveal the entrance to a cocktail bar.

You go in, and behind the bar, there’s a robot straight out of Futurama; tin face, bowler hat, and suspenders stretched over its cylindric body. There’s an iPad attached to the bar, and you select the drink you want. The robot opens its chest and out pops your pick-me-up. No conversation, no preparation, just artificial customer service meant to capitalize off of your fun.

Now, the real question is… do you leave a tip?

Although this is purely fictitious, the truth is we now live in a world where humans are being replaced with robots every day. Automated checkout machines have taken over Shopper's Drug Mart cashier’s jobs, and bionic arms have replaced flair bartenders on Royal Caribbean cruises. This leaves most asking: how did we let our obsession with efficiency come to this?

Let’s rewind back to the late 1800s, shortly after the Industrial Revolution, where an American couple named Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were studying motion and time. The two argued that tasking workers with the challenge of streamlining their actions would lead to better functionality, and spark joy in the workplace.

The Gilbreths used a coding system to track motions such as grasping, transporting and positioning, which they called Therbligs. This was meant to make manual labour more efficient by eliminating unnecessary movements. Mrs. Gilbreth even used a spool of yarn and pins to track her subjects -who were mainly housewives cooking in their kitchens.


Imagine; moving around your bar with twine in tow: a la Sting’s Every Breath You Take. Enough to make you nerve-rackingly question the very efficiency of your own tasks.

The results? Subjects were less fatigued, had greater enthusiasm and more satisfaction while performing tasks —all of which the Gilbreths thought key to achieving optimum performance.

If a bartender is self-aware, pays close attention to their guests, and has immediate access to their tools; it will not only make the restaurant a more efficient place to work, but also a more satisfying place to grab a cocktail.

As for robotic bartenders…they will never stand a chance. Relying on someone who uses their human intuition and comprehensive knowledge to create a drink especially for you is an unparalleled experience. What’s more, bartenders find that speed and efficiency is something that can always be improved upon, so resurrecting the Gilbreth’s therblig system just might be the answer.

In the words of famed critic John Ruskin, “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of an intelligent effort”.