The future of restaurant kitchens is quite clear; robotics and automation are going to play a major part. It won’t be long before we eat food made and/or served by robots. At the moment, there are two differing perceptions of how exactly the automated kitchen market will evolve and come to life.
Two Perceptions: One Objective
One perception, retrofitting, entails designing and building various modules for different tasks in existing restaurant kitchens – essentially adding new technologies or features to older and/or traditional systems.
The second is a fully automatic and autonomous restaurant, namely the total solution. These two options aim to achieve the same objective in different ways: the establishment of a fully automated autonomous kitchen within a new restaurant at a given location, or a pre-fabricated, self-contained fully automated and autonomous boxed kitchen.
Automation is the Name of the Game
Examples of retrofitting are replacing a makeline component with a robot, or a machine augmenting a single station as one part of an entire restaurant kitchen. We have seen some amazing robots flipping burgers, assembling them, or loading pizzas into ovens.
The total solution means replacing an entire restaurant kitchen with an automatic, robotic and autonomous system that will prepare and package food that is ready for delivery and consumption, without any human involvement.
Both perceptions revolve around the concept of increasing efficiency, increasing output, and reducing costs and emissions.
Is Renovation or New Construction Right for Your Business?
Retrofitting, by utilizing or continuing to maintain existing systems, is still reliant on human kitchen help and encounters several obstacles. In general, restaurants and the kitchens therein were not built under the assumption that machines and/or robots could coexist with the human element.
Designed and built with high functionality in mind, working kitchens in existing restaurants present quite a challenge for the integration of various machines of fixed size and shape. Each kitchen presents a different challenge with its individual, unique design, essentially requiring the re-invention of the space, which, in turn, involves design and renovation costs. Like the modernization of old homes, it is often easier and more cost-effective to completely rebuild than to renovate.
The Total Solution
Unlike retrofitting, there are no humans involved at any stage in the process taking place in a total solution kitchen. This more streamlined and contained process substantially reduces costs and increases efficiency and output, and of the two options, is preferable.
Building a fully autonomous kitchen from the ground up each time for a single restaurant is simply not economical. The costs involved are simply too high. The boxed restaurant concept, a virtual ‘plug and play’ solution, on the other hand makes a great deal of sense. There is no need to redesign or renovate. It can be placed almost anywhere with access to electricity, water, sewage and communication – and PRESTO! It works.
The total boxed restaurant solution delivers much more accurate and consistent results in terms of food quality and quality assurance. The solution offers considerable production abilities around the clock. Above all, the total solution allows existing restaurant chains to scale rapidly in a cost-effective manner.
This does not mean that the total solution is flawless. The market for wholly autonomous kitchens/restaurants is not on par with existing traditional restaurants. The total solution concept is built for delivery and does not replace the brick and mortar restaurants that provide the customer with the brand experience. Moreover, the total solution necessitates a more advanced mix of technology versus just individual modules, as well as a much longer development process.
The Future Restaurant Kitchen
Regardless of the exact path future restaurant kitchens will take, my belief is that ultimately, a great majority of restaurant kitchens, if not the restaurant itself, will be fully robotic and automated. I don’t necessarily see robots replacing human workers, but instead, I anticipate they will become a crucial tool that elevates the restaurant and delivery experience – not only for the customer, but for businesses themselves.
A big wave of change is headed to the market, where new brands will emerge, mostly delivery and digital oriented ones, with no food production infrastructure but with a captive audience. The total solution concept ideally fits their needs. Within a short time, new and evolving companies will grow through total solutions, while existing brands will attempt to integrate the retrofit module systems. Only time will tell which option comes out on top.
Udi Shamai, the co-founder of Hyper Robotics, the innovative company behind the first self-contained, end-to-end fully autonomous kitchen in the world.