Matt Pre­ston:

On the brave new world of restau­rants.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - CONTENTS - @mattscra­vat @MattsCra­vat MATT PRE­STON Read the first part of Matt’s look at the fu­ture of restau­rants at de­li­

IF YOU’VE booked a restau­rant on­line or or­dered your latte at a touch-screen kiosk you’ve tapped the tip of a rapidly ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy ice­berg for the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness. A host of ad­vances prom­ise bet­ter mar­gins and more sales to an in­creas­ingly tech-savvy clien­tele – for restau­ra­teurs who can af­ford it, that is. Big groups can spread the cost of tech over a string of out­lets but that’s out of reach for your lone lo­cal favourite.

So where will tech­nol­ogy make the most im­pact on our fu­ture food scene?


‘Make it faster’ and ‘re­move hu­man er­ror’ are the twin mantras for a new wave of labour-sav­ing kitchen de­vices. Place your or­ders now for the Chow­botics ro­botic salad maker and the An­tunes JS-1000 Jet Steamer, which scram­bles eggs in 12 sec­onds. A Cal­i­for­nia pizza de­liv­ery com­pany, mean­while, has a patent out on a ma­chine that fin­ishes cook­ing that pizza you or­dered in the back of the de­liv­ery truck.


Ex­pect tech-savvy restau­rants and chains to em­ploy sys­tems that al­low you to or­der, pay and split bills us­ing your phone and to claim and track loy­alty re­ward points. Don’t be sur­prised, though, if they also mon­i­tor this, as well as who uses their free wi-fi, all to tar­get us bet­ter. More in-restau­rant phone charg­ing sta­tions will no doubt ap­pear.


Au­to­mated or­der­ing and pay­ment kiosks have been spruiked since 2006, but now they’re com­ing of age. Self or­der so­lu­tions were the hot cat­e­gory at two re­cent US restau­rant trade shows and the adop­tion of kiosks at drive-thru, fast-ca­sual and fast-food restau­rants grows apace. Mc­Don­ald’s pre­dicts that most of its 14,000 US out­lets will have self-or­der kiosks by 2020,while Wendy’s is rolling them out to its 6500-odd US out­lets.The counter is all about serv­ing the food. Restau­rants will be able to take more or­ders ev­ery hour, and it leaves the up-sell­ing – ‘do you want fries with that?’ – up to the ma­chine.

The brochures also tell you that giv­ing the cus­tomer more con­trol over, and abil­ity to cus­tomise, their or­der will keep those more se­lec­tive (read fussy) mil­len­ni­als happy. And, cer­tainly, be­ing able to cus­tomise menus to show only low-cal or ve­gan of­fer­ings, or be­ing able to check the to­tal sugar, fat or pro­tein lev­els of a meal, would be a huge plus for many in th­ese health-con­scious times.


Add up all that data po­ten­tially be­ing mined with each kiosk in­ter­ac­tion, tablet-based or­der at your ta­ble, phone or­der and on­line book­ing and that’s an aw­ful lot of in­for­ma­tion about you that (as­sum­ing you agree to make it avail­able, one hopes) a restau­rant could use for ev­ery­thing from sug­gest­ing or­ders based on your likes, or your di­etary choices, to fir­ing your or­ders to the kitchen and bar just as you ap­proach the restau­rant. This means that drink you or­dered ar­rives at the ta­ble when you do, there’s no te­dious wait for the food and the bill’s al­ready paid so the chal­lenge of dis­ap­pear­ing wait­ers at the end of the night is a thing of the past.


Th­ese aren’t strictly new. Tech au­thor Kerry Se­grave writes that ba­sic vend­ing ma­chine-style ver­sions first ap­peared in the ’60s when big US com­pa­nies in­stalled au­to­mated can­teens of­fer­ing the likes of in­frared-toasted sand­wiches and frozen meals such as lasagne that were heated in the ma­chines for lunch.

Some fu­tur­ists pre­dict that 50 per cent of jobs – mainly low- to mid-skilled roles like those that make up the bulk at mass restau­rants – are at risk from robots. Ja­pan has Gy­oza Lab, a fully au­to­mated fast-food joint where the dumplings are made and de­liv­ered by a robot, and the Henn-na Ho­tel where the front-desk and cloak­room staff are all robots. In the US, Mo­men­tum Ma­chines has raised $US18 mil­lion to launch a chain of fully au­to­mated burger joints based on a more ad­vanced ver­sion of a ma­chine it un­veiled in 2012 that grinds the meat, makes and grills the pat­ties, slices the top­pings and as­sem­bles the burg­ers at a rate of 400 an hour.

Mo­men­tum has, how­ever, ex­pressed con­cerns about whether it’s fea­si­ble for robots to han­dle cus­tomer ser­vice, and rightly so it seems. Or­a­cle’s ‘Restau­rant 2025’ re­port found that 40 per cent of con­sumers sur­veyed found the idea of be­ing served by a ma­chine would be strange or in­va­sive. News that au­to­mated veg­e­tar­ian chain Eatsa, launched in 2015, had to close five of its eater­ies out­side its San Fran­cisco base due to a luke­warm re­sponse also seems to sup­port the no­tion that peo­ple want peo­ple to serve them.

It’s per­haps no sur­prise that in San Fran, the US’s techi­est city, Eatsa has fared bet­ter along with the robot-brewed cof­fees at the Café X cafés and the robot-run food de­liv­er­ies of Yelp’s Eat24, bought last year for around $288 mil­lion by US food-de­liv­ery gi­ant GrubHub. Hav­ing vis­ited a San Fran­cisco branch of Eatsa for a quinoa bowl (obvs), I can say hav­ing a face­less in­ter­face is weird.As is see­ing shad­owy fig­ures flit­ting around be­hind the bank of smoked-glass de­liv­ery win­dows that spell out your name when your food is ready.

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