Learning to love the robots in our kitchens
Everywhere you look in the restaurant business these days, “the robots are coming,” said Tony Naylor in TheGuardian.com. In Denver, Good Times Burgers recently became perhaps the first fast-food business to put an artificially intelligent voice assistant in charge of its drive-through orders. In Boston, a restaurant that serves a variety of grain bowls prepped by a van-size machine was recently named one of the city’s best new restaurants. On a couple of college campuses and in one Silicon Valley pizzeria, robots have also broken into serving and delivery. If anyone wished to create an eatery where the order-taking, cooking, and serving were all performed by robots, it could be done. “The technology exists—it just needs knitting together cost-effectively and in a way diners buy into.”
Customer response to automation is clearly a major concern at our town’s Creator, said Soleil Ho in the San Francisco Chronicle. In fact, “I have never dined at a restaurant that was so devoted to not scaring me.” What worries the management is that the public might not be ready for a robot that cooks and assembles every burger served. To ease fears of a robot takeover, the machine itself hides nothing. Behind a glass front, the mechanical wonder grinds the pasture-raised beef right before your eyes, then smashes it down and grills the patty as it inches forward on a conveyor belt. Various local chefs created the suggested combinations of toppings (think shiitake mushroom sauce and smoked-oyster aioli). And in a further effort to combat alienation, a friendly human greets you and takes your order. The burgers don’t disappoint. All are made from a “just fatty enough” blend of brisket and chuck, so they retain moisture and tenderness when cooked to well done. With the gourmet toppings and $6 price, they’re satisfying enough that I plan to keep coming back— “even if it does turn out that the bot in the kitchen has been plotting revolution.”
Boston’s Spyce fills a similar role, said Devra First in The Boston Globe. At the fast-casual restaurant in Downtown Crossing, a robot created by four MIT graduates turns out several easy lunches—a Moroccan bowl and a Thai bowl among them. At $7.50 each, the customizable meals are $2 to $4 cheaper than the fare assembled by line cooks at similar places, and “Lord help us, they taste good too.” The machine, which cooks on several woks at once, is “mesmerizing to watch.” But people are still necessary to Spyce’s operation. Famed chef Daniel Boulud brought in an executive chef who’s responsible for creating and fine-tuning every Spyce recipe. The team also uses humans to prep ingredients and to serve each bowl, and the staffers fall into conversation with customers, just as in the days before robots. Most importantly, the food “tastes of the world’s great civilizations,” with thousands of years of culture in every bite.
And no matter how quickly the revolution comes, “robots won’t be taking all the jobs,” said Jennifer Marston in TheSpoon.com. A recent report by the National Restaurant Association projects that the industry, which currently employs 15.3 million people in the U.S., will add 1.6 million jobs by 2029. “That’s good news both for the workforce and the customers, who often prefer a side of emotional contact served up with their chicken tenders.” ■