At first, several restaurants introduced robots as waiters in their venues. However, these trials lead to failures, as communication between robots and humans is not sufficiently fluid. But because humankind is not the kind to quit, robots were transferred to the kitchens, where the contact with the customer is not an issue anymore. These past few years, robots have proven to be reliable, fast, precise, and highly conscientious cooks. Ready for a little round-the-world tour to observe these kitchen robots in their element?
San Francisco and Hong Kong
One of the first robotic venues to open was a café in San Francisco, USA. To order a cappuccino at Cafe X, the customer simply uses an app on their smartphone to place a command, pay it and receive a code to retrieve the hot drink! At the robotic coffee bar, which is basically a cabin of glass, a robotic arm, created by Mitsubishi, makes four beverages at the same time, and this every 20 seconds! Fresh from this American success, the café can now be seen in Hong Kong, where it has just arrived last year.
Talking about Asia, let’s see what is done over there…and the answer is: a lot!
Alibaba’s Hema supermarket, where robots help you shop, pay, and deliver your meal at the supermarket’s restaurant, is now a well known success, with 65 locations in China. Hema definitely started a trend. But the new robotic star in town is Ratio! This cafévenue, with no barista and an absolute beverage customisation, offers a different relationship to coffee. One day, the founder of Ratio made a simple observation: he drinks Americano, which is made of 25% of espresso and 75% of water, but prefers it made with only 50% of water and precisely 2.8 shots of espresso. That particular ratio, only a robot can perfectly measure and repeat it.
This is exactly why Ratio was invented. With an app, the customer decides what each millilitre of their hot beverage is made of. The robots execute the customised order before the customer’s eye. No waiting time, no errors, no limits in choice. Starbucks is warned, the robots of Ratio are here to stay! Oh, and have we mentioned? Ratio turns into a cocktail bar in the evening, and the barista robots into barmen robots!
Coffee and cocktails are nice, but what about food? Sweets? No worries, the robot ice cream has our back! One of the most known soft serve cones of Japan is in fact served by a robot! This modern ice cream place fits in a small booth, the size of a vending machine. And just like with one of these, to get an ice cream, you need to insert the coins, select your flavour, watch the robotic show, and grab the cone handed by Yaskawa-kin, the cute robot created by Yaskawa, an engineering company in Fukuoaka.
Asia is not the only place with impressive engineers. In France, two engineers created a pizzeria where robots are the pizzaïoli! At Pazzi, via a screen kiosk or the app, the customer orders from 15 different recipes, thought by Thierry Grafagnino, three times world pizza champion. The robots then bake the pizza right in front of the customer, and in only 4 minutes and 30 seconds! Good thing pizza is a hundred and twenty five billion dollar year industry globally: plenty of pizza to slice up!
Argentina, Buenos Aires
Even South America follows the robotic trend: in Buenos Aires, three founders created Foster Nutrition, a “fast food gourmet”, as they call it. However, for the locals, it is known as the “the first intelligent restaurant”. Just like the Dutch pioneer Febo, Foster Nutrition is entirely automated, apart from the cooks: the customer never interacts with a human staff in this restaurant. The salad or wrap is ordered via a tactile screen, prepared in the back by the cooking team and a few minutes after, ready to be picked up at one of the 18 automatic boxes: a touch of the finger on the door, and you are ready to eat! The idea behind this concept is to avoid time loss at all cost. Which seems more than perfect for the businesswomen and businessmen of the neighbourhood!
Back in the States, in Boston, time is just as precious for the working inhabitants. This is why four MIT students invented Spyce, a restaurant where woks, salads, grain bowls and stir-fries are prepared in a robotic kitchen. Seven robotic woks concoct the vegetable and noodles mix chosen beforehand by the customer via one of the tactile screens. Up to 150 meals per hour can be cooked! This system allows a perfect hygiene, freshness and exactitude. Meaning that the customer will always have the same wok quality, down to the exact ingredient and taste. Moreover, only 3 minutes are needed for all meals to be ready, which guarantees the customer to be back at the office on time!
To end our world tour, let’s return where we started, in Asia. One of the rare venues where robot waiters are actually a success, is at Hajime Robot Restaurant. This success is probably due to the fact that the service is made by Samurai robots! With two locations in Thailand, Hajime features booths in front of which two white robots, dressed as Samurai warriors, glide along a track. Press “order to robot” on the table’s touch screen to see the robot, 20 minutes after, slide full speed towards you with a tray filled with food! And when the robots are not busy waiting tables, they dance to Lady Gaga!
Robots in kitchens not only provide a unique dining experience, they also provide budget conscious price tags. A robotic kitchen’s only inputs are electricity and water, with an average of 0.3 gallons per minute, so 80% less than the average kitchen use! Their reliability and precision avoid as well all food and time waste. Indeed, these robotic restaurants cannot function without humans and yet, they might reduce the workforce. As you have just read, robots are an undeniable aspect of the future. But they are not the sole future. We believe that for some sectors of the F&B, robots have the adequate features: for a venue opened all night or one dedicated to serving businesswomen and businessmen in a record time. However, we also believe that for most venues, another future is seen at the horizon: one where service will become the key element of a venue, its added value, and even its very core essence.