Future Shock: Automatic restaurants and robotic kitchens await you

Photo Courtesy: @misorobotics

While millennial diners are excited to be served by Flippy or Chippy, old timers still prefer the personal human touch

The impact of Covid-19 pandemic has turned restaurants and kitchens on the path of automation aided by robotic technology and contactless food preparation and delivery.

The post-Covid years are witnessing a new revolution in this direction with virtually every restaurant adapting the new mode that saves money, time and adds up to huge profits.

Already piloted and tested, the entire process of restaurants is technology-oriented starting with the entry into a restaurant with not a waiter but just a voice greeting you, ordering items on a touch-pad menu fixed on the wall or in a corner and finding vacant seats anywhere inside.

Read: McDonald’s may replace employees with robots in restaurants (May 25, 2016)

For those expecting a takeout, the system is adept devoid of any need to enter the restaurant but use only a window. Automation has helped streamline the ordering process and save in costs and labor in the midst of a staff shortage due to the pandemic.

From a simple QR code that allows customers to access a menu without having to interact with any waiter to food preparation has become automatic with the order reaching the robots in the kitchen who initiate cooking.

No confusion and no need to prepare a check as an alternate payment process has replaced a server or cashier. Nor do the customers need to flag down a busy waiter when they need attention.

Gone are the days when employees at quick-service restaurants were found to spend more time doling out drinks and condiments, especially in the drive-thru.

Now devices read orders and fill cups on their own, allowing employees to focus on other tasks, like cooking food and packing. Automation has tripled efficiency and speeding drive-thru lines.

Next comes the smart ovens which can read orders, place food inside ovens, set the time and temperature based on weight. Some smart restaurants have added ovens to scan QR codes of a food item and automatically cook to the specifications, helping fast-food restaurants be really fast and instant.

Some restaurants have already been using robots for serving food and even washing dishes. These robots are programed to map out the restaurant floor, complete with table numbers so the food can be loaded and delivered to the correct table.

Read: A robot chef for $14,800 that makes 2,000 dishes (April 14, 2015)

Notable in the list of automation of restaurants around the world, Spyce, a restaurant created by MIT students allows customers to input their orders at a kiosk and its kitchen equipped with robots can cook the food in less than three minutes. Not in the distant future but in a few years, all restaurants will feature robotic kitchens and a contactless experience.

In this direction, Miso Technologies has claimed a 20% increase in food production speed at Flippy Wings. In a pilot at Buffalo Wild Wings, not only speed but also considerable improvement was found in avoiding oil slippage.

Similarly, White Castle using Miso’s robot chef Flippy in 2020 expanded and deployed it to 100 more restaurants, while Chipotle just began using Miso’s Chippy to make its tortilla chips, and Chowbotics’ salad-making robot Sally has made its entry into Saladworks.

No wonder, Miso recently captured $50 million in Series C and D funding, and upped its goal to raise an additional $40 million.

Diners miss human touch
But a report by Big Red Rooster finds diner comfort levels around robotics-aided restaurants are mixed. The millennial diners are found to be more at ease with excitement to see back-of-house automation such as Flippy or Chippy.

Those used to hospitality and human interaction with an ambience of relaxed atmosphere across demographics, still prefer and expect not just food but also service.

“Consumers have heightened expectations around speed, accuracy, intelligence, and automation and are more receptive than ever to the technologies that provide them. Yet most restaurant consumers still feel human beings are integral, even critical, to the restaurant experience regardless of sector or fulfilment type,” Big Red Rooster’s report said.

Read: Flippy, meet Chippy, Chipotle’s new tortilla chip-cooking robot arm (March 16, 2022)

Big Red Rooster’s data found many consumers would prefer a human or a waiter to welcome them, prepare their food, deliver it to the table though they prefer automation confined to taking orders and expediting them.

However, the report found that 26% of consumers preferred to dine at a fully automated restaurant by 2025. According to a Lightspeed report, 50% of operators plan to deploy automated tech by 2025.

From some customers, restaurants also signify hospitality. What if you need specific help with the menu or when the delivery missed certain ordered items? Here, human intervention cannot be avoided, they insist.

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