“There’s a challenge with a lot of restaurants to improve efficiency,” says chief operating officer and one of the four founders, Kale Rogers. “We’ve taken the repetitive hot-cooking process, standardized it, and taken it out of the way to allow people to focus on hospitality—chatting with customers, adding finishing touches and handing the food to people with a smile. What we looked to optimize was the repetitive tasks we could do with a robot.”
Driving efficiency throughout the process (ingredients are prepped at a commissary beforehand) allows Spyce to staff strategically based on demand, Rogers says.
Then again, being a fast-casual concept, service jostles with speed, convenience and price more so than in a full-service setting.
“I think the concern [about robotics in restaurants] comes from this notion of trying to replace people in general,” he acknowledges. “For the customer experience and hospitality aspect, I hope that will never be taken away. We might be able to partially automate or improve the cooking side, but customer experience is something people are intrinsically so good at.”
It’s a point of contention for full-service restaurants looking to automation to make certain processes easier or more cost effective—whether through table-mounted self-pay tablets, predictive scheduling, or, yes, robots. Will it make humans obsolete?
“I recognize that there’s a lot of people that want to be first to do things,” says David Morton, co-owner of DMK Restaurants in Chicago, which employs 1,000 people across 10 concepts. His father Arnie Morton started Morton’s Restaurant Group. “Restaurants are very en vogue, there’s low barrier to entry—a lot like other bubbles of my lifetime, from real estate in the ’90s to tech in 2001. But I would caution operators about the dehumanization of restaurants through robotics. The industry has evolved, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed. It’s about people.”