Kitchen technology was on the path to consistent growth already. Self-serving machines, as well, were having a moment in the upper echelon of the restaurant and foodservice industry. But then a pandemic happened and now, many believe, the world might be ushered, much quickly and essentially, into an era where automation and self-serving solutions are prevalently opted for. After all, we’re already seeing massive efforts to go contactless – right from ‘contactless journey’ introduced by airports to ‘contactless delivery’ brought by e-commerce players. So, it only makes sense the buzzword also marks the foodservice industry via. kitchen robotics.
As mentioned, self-serving machines were already having a moment even before the ongoing crisis. Especially in places where food needs to be served round-the-clock and people are disinclined to the packed or frozen foods, automated kiosks had been more visible than ever. ‘Sally the Robot’, an example in case here, is the first fresh food robot coming from Chowbotics that can make you breakfast and snacks in a breeze. It can handle 22 ingredients with many combinations. Available for purchase or on a monthly basis, the robot is already used in over 70 locations, including The Salad Station, a restaurant chain with a presence in Alabama, Florida, and other states.
‘Sally’ is just one example. FROM Yokai, an automated machine that dishes delicious ramen bowl TO Café X, a robotic coffee shop that already has many buyers including airports – self-serving machines have certainly been a delight of seasons, underpinning the slow but inevitable transition in the foodservice industry.
So, it’s not that kitchen tech wasn’t already making waves. However, due to the unprecedented needs of today when social distance must be maintained and human touch be minimized, the purpose of kiosks or self-serving solution seems redefined. And this makes advanced food tech and robotics worth an investment even for the relatively smaller restaurants and other business owners in the sector, following suit of the bigger names, shopping malls, airports, and universities. For once, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the restaurant businesses won’t be the same again – not at least for years. In that span, and thereafter, these businesses need to adopt advanced technologies and innovative solutions to survive in the challenging times ahead that stare back at us.
Admittedly, despite the subsequent adoption of food tech, apprehensions are far from gone. While some of these are still the same arguments like “foods made by humans are much better”, other bits of confusion are legitimate. For instance, if there’s already a Starbucks at the airport, what’s the point of installing a self-serving coffee machine? While the question fits appropriately, it also overlooks the changed (and changing) consumer behavior that puts convenience and good experience as a Holy Grail. People would rather order a cup of coffee (and any other drink and food) on their app and walk up to the counter at the airport when their takeout is ready than wait in a line. The former is much convenient and quick, delivering the person a great experience. Similarly, going back to the old argument, while the debate can never end whether machine-made food can match hand-made food in taste, few can contend against the efficiency of food automation. And this comes in handy when you always order your “regular”, which doesn’t require a new (and unchartered) combination by the machine.
Technology can instill fear for many. History reflects this well. However, instead of letting those fears hinder evolution is a bad idea. This is especially true in times like today when a change in the restaurant and foodservice industry seems imperative. The old practices, methodologies, and approaches will fail to the health and economic challenges of today and tomorrow. The restaurant business owners, otherwise hesitant to trust newer technologies like robotics – their fears must be effectively addressed, questions answered, and confusions cleared. In the post-pandemic world, with new social guidelines and evolved behaviors, self-serving machines, which sounded like a noise aka hype previously might just become a norm that’s enabling business owners to weather the storm.
Furthermore, not just for the existing players, but self-serving kitchen tech is also a game-changer for those who plan to launch their business in the restaurant and foodservice industry. It packs plenty of benefits and opportunities that ones with an entrepreneurial spirit can adequately tap on. For instance, the food outlet relying on kiosks does not need an F&B license. A vending machine license can be sufficient, which is, comparatively, much easier to acquire. These machines also don’t have a lock-in period, which one struggles with on the traditional path with a regular outlet.
Similarly, food businesses that rely on self-serving solutions would require much less of the space, as well as of other inventories. The business, if established well, can also be portable or mobile. So, if one is looking to move locations, the regular hassle of selling traditional outlets is eliminated. With the machine onboard, you can easily shift places with a limited effect on the financial side of your business. In addition, there are several other benefits a food startup, launched on the back of the crisis, can enjoy out of self-serving machines. The efficiency, quickness, and cost-effectiveness are too common of those benefits that themselves deliver business an edge in the market. This food tech can enable the business a progressive growth. To that, little perks like them eliminating the need for tipping, which can attract many consumers, cannot be reluctantly overlooked.
Unless something changes dramatically, restaurant and foodservice businesses will expectedly face difficult times forward due to the pandemic and recession; the burden will be worse for the small and medium-sized ones. However, in between those challenges, there would also be seamless opportunities for all. Food tech empowers a large part of those opportunities. Whether an established player, a startup, or an entrepreneur who’s planning to launch a restaurant business, investing in self-serving machines and other similar solutions can be a great boost for them. Because, again, while kitchen technologies might have come off as a noise earlier for many, they are about to become the newer norms in the industry. Business owners who recognize this trend and can act quickly, they would be positioned much stronger as the months and years roll on.