The industry has been buzzing for months about Eatsa, the West Coast operation that seemed like something beamed back from the future because of all the technology it embraced to eliminate labor—at least in terms of what customers see. Look past the front of the house and the replacement of humans may not be as sweeping as the public thinks, according to operators and vendors who’ve had that peek behind the curtain.
Just wait until the industry sees the restaurant concept that Silicon Valley has in the works, those in-the-know sources would tease us with a sly grin, explaining they were sworn to secrecy. That’ll be the real game changer, they taunted.
Details of that truly robotized concept have finally come to light. It’s a pizza delivery venture called Zume Pizza, co-founded by such Silicon Valley celebs as the entrepreneur who popularized the Farmville online game.
But that’s not the only head-turning advance in restaurant robotics this week. Here’s a roundup of those tidbits, written by and for humans.
1. Marta the pizza robot
Zume’s success will depend to a large extent on three key employees: co-founder and gaming veteran Alex Garden, restaurant veteran Julia Collins, and, perhaps most important, the one-unit operation’s main pizza maker, a robot called Marta.
Marta is still in training mode, spreading sauce on pizza shells inside the prototype Zume kitchen as Executive Chairman Garden and CEO Collins work out the kinks. “She” hangs from the ceiling to distribute the sauce before the pie is passed down a conveyor line to humans, who add the cheese and other toppings.
Another robot, Bruno, then scoops up the raw pies and slides them into an oven.
Zume is awaiting health department approval to shift the cooking process to high-tech trucks that will deliver the pies to customers’ homes, according to Bloomberg, which managed to get a reporter into the upstart’s kitchen (Collins did not respond to our request for information). The vehicles are not exactly pickups fresh off the dealer showroom; each is outfitted with 56 automated ovens, according to Bloomberg.
2. 400 burgers an hour, zero pay
A “help wanted” ad on Craigslist was a tip-off that a robotic fast-food burger restaurant is set to open in San Francisco. According to the ad and news reports that followed, the heart of the restaurant will be a robot that can prep, cook and serve 400 burgers an hour.
“This location will feature the worldpremiere of our proprietary and remarkable new advances in technology that enable the automatic creation of impossibly delicious burgers at prices everyone can afford,” said the company behind the restaurant, a 4-year-old tech enterprise called Momentum Machines.
The robot can reportedly slice tomatoes and pickles, handle lettuce garnishes and flip burgers—all at an hourly wage of zero.
3. Taco Bell’s automation test
Not all of the tech-for-humans swaps are the stuff of science fiction. Taco Bell is taking a now-familiar tack, outfitting a test unit in Southern California with unmanned stations where customers place their own orders instead of dealing with a person on the other side of the counter, according to The Street.
4. Delivery without a driver
Consumers in three European cities will soon have no reason to tip a delivery driver. Through a collaboration of delivery specialists, retailers and tech firms, six-wheeled droids will soon be hauling customers’ orders through the sidewalks of London, as well as Dusseldorf, Germany, and Bern, Switzerland.
Details are sketchy, but Bloomberg reported that the robots can haul up to 20 pounds to homes as far as three miles away. One of the partners in the venture told the news service that humans will monitor the droids’ journeys and take over the pudgy little vehicles’ navigation if need be. The devices will travel via sidewalks rather than on roads. In nine months of testing, that wasn’t a problem, according to the collaborators.
Partners in the endeavor include a new delivery app, Just Eat, and a delivery service, Pronto. The restaurants signing on to use the robotic service were not revealed.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.