They’re fast, efficient and don’t require time off—or a paycheck. Robots are emerging as choice employee stand-ins in the restaurant industry as wage and benefit costs rise and customers demand meals that require more craft (read: labor). While we’re still years away from a robot takeover, these five restaurants have gotten a head start in making robots an essential part of the team.
1. Shanxi Noodle House
Shanxi Noodle House, a Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel Valley, Calif., offers hand-cut noodles…kind of. It is the first restaurant in the United States to have a noodle-shaving robot that uses a vegetable peeler-like knife to rapidly shave large mounds of dough into small noodles and tosses them into a bowl. A human staff member then comes to collect the noodles, which are used in a variety of dishes.
2. The Interval
San Francisco bar The Interval employs not one, but two robots. Customers can watch Otto, a chalkboard robot, draw and write menu specials on the bar’s front-of-house chalkboard, all while sipping drinks made by the nameless robot behind the bar that is able to dispense perfectly measured shots of gin.
3. Federal Donuts
Federal Donuts—a doughnut, fried chicken and coffee shop in Philadelphia—takes Krispy Kreme’s donut machine a step further. Unlike Krispy Kreme donuts, which are produced in bulk and take over 15 minutes to make, Federal’s conveyor belt-like robot assures that each made-to-order donut is the precise size and is fresh out of the fryer for customers in one minute.
4. Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean has two robot bartenders onboard its Quantum of the Seas cruise ship. The robots, which are shaped like long arms, are able to mix, muddle, shake and pour cocktails with computerized accuracy. Customers place customizable cocktail orders on tablets located around the bar and can pick up their drinks in 30 seconds.
5. Sushi Station
What normally is a time-consuming, tedious task of hand-rolling sushi has become a much simpler operation, thanks to two back-of-house sushi-rolling robots at Sushi Station, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Elgin, Ill. The two robots, as well as a machine that shapes rice for nigiri, allow Sushi Station to supply the estimated 1,000 rolls it serves daily.