When I visited Tokyo, Japan this summer, I was served by a robot for the first time. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant – It was a simple chain breakfast establishment near where I was staying. First, I ordered a traditional Japanese breakfast on a screen at the table. I wasn’t expecting it, but then the food arrived, delivered by a robot that had several trays and a little cat head on top.
The entire experience was automated. We sat down, ordered, received our food, and even served our own drinks ourselves without human interaction. For someone traveling in a foreign country that spoke no Japanese, this was a positive experience for me because I would have felt bad ordering in English or not knowing Japanese. As an introvert, I can say sometimes it’s nice to have little interaction when you want to just eat alone in the quiet.
During the rest of my trip in Japan, I was served by various types of robots and experienced many automated experiences. I often entered my order on a screen or tablet, I received sushi on a conveyor belt, and saw a coffee shop ran entirely by robots. It made me wonder – is this what the future of restaurants looks like?
Of course, there are many critics of the use of robots in restaurants, especially with the sentiment of losing those moments of human interaction when dining. Another concern is robots taking over jobs in the food and hospitality industry.
However, as we know, the food and hospitality industry is having a hard time finding and keeping employees, and it has one of the highest quit rates out of all industries.
Robots have not taken over restaurants, and they likely will not. However, there are already a wide variety of different robots, automated systems, and AI being used in the restaurant industry. Let’s take a look at a few different choices might choose to adopt:
Alfred, the robotic arm sous chef
These robots are designed to prepare and cook food, and they can handle tasks like grilling, frying, and even making pizza. Cooking robots can even be programmed to follow recipes and ensure consistent food quality. Picnic Pizza Station robot can automate your pizza prep to increase efficiency and reduce food waste. Dexai Robotics offers Alfred, a robotic arm sous chef that can prep a bowl of food in 2 minutes. For fast food restaurants that have a high volume of orders, Flippy, powered by Miso AI, is a commercial kitchen robot that fries food with precision.
Serving robots from Pudu Robotics
Waitstaff robots are used for taking customers to their tables, serving food and beverages, and gathering used dishes. They can navigate the restaurant with advanced sensors, and some can interact with customers by taking orders or answering basic questions. A few companies, like Pudu Robotics, LG, and Bear Robots offer waitstaff robots that provide these features and more.
Blendid’s robot smoothie kiosk
Bartending, Barista, and Smoothie Robots
Beverage robots are capable of mixing and serving a wide variety of drinks. They are often programmed with drink recipes, and can create everything from cappuccinos to cocktails. Blendid is a contactless and autonomous robotic food kiosk that uses advanced technology like robotics, machine vision, and artificial intelligence to prepare and serve healthy smoothies (which can be customized!). Artsy is a coffee making robotic arm that can be trained to learn new tricks by human baristas, and its deep learning-based visual inspection is used to monitor drink quality. Makr Shakr is a kiosk with a robotic arm capable of serving classic or customized cocktails in high volume venues; with the robotic bar you will be able to keep track of your customers’ tastes and habits to optimize your business strategy.
Washing dishes in a restaurant is often the lowest ranking and paying job in the restaurant, and dishwashing robots automate the process of cleaning and sanitizing dishes and utensils. Nala Robotics’ “Spotless” dishwashing robot can operate 24/7 without human intervention, and it detects, pre-cleans, rinses, dries, stacks, and stores dishes.
AI in Restaurants
AI is all the rage right now, and it is of course being used in the restaurant industry. It can be especially helpful for taking orders, and can streamline the process and even increase sales. For example, Restaurant Brands International installed AI-generated ordering screens at Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes to make food suggestions based on the weather, trending items, or previous orders.
Sante Magazine offers two types of AI on our site. Charlotte, the WineGURU™ pairs wine and food. Kim, the RestaurantGURU™ is an Artificial Intelligence that answers your restaurant development and management questions.
Are robots the new reality in restaurants?
For many, robots running restaurants feels like a sad reality. However, a more positive way to look at this is thinking of robots as a replacement for the lowest paying and least desirable restaurant jobs, and the ones that are difficult to fill. A human doesn’t need to spend 8 hours flipping burgers – they are better suited for face-to-face interactions, creating a personalized experience, and tasks like examining the quality of the end product. If you ask me, there’s plenty of room in the restaurant industry for both robots and humans.