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 by robots and/or served by robots. That being said, there are two differing perceptions of how exactly the automated kitchen market will evolve.
Two perceptions and one objective
One perception, retrofitting, entails designing and building various modules for different tasks in existing restaurants 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. Two options can provide such a solution: 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. Both accomplish these by, first and foremost, reducing reliance on a human workforce. They both provide greater accuracy and are able to prepare food with much higher quality assurance …
Renovation or new construction?
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 would replace 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.
Even after retrofitting, the kitchen remains dependent on humans, with errors and inaccuracies, and fatigue, not to mention the risks posed to the safety and health of both employee and customer, and the costs involved for training and wages, all of which may ultimately offset the benefits automation tries to offer.
A third challenge, realized from actual experience, is the human-robot interaction, apparently workers feel unsafe working next to a robot.
The Total Solution
Unlike retrofitting, there are no humans involved at any stage in the process taking place in a total solution kitchen.
While removal of the human element substantially reduces costs and increases efficiency and output, of the two aforesaid options, the total solution using a boxed restaurant concept is preferable.
Building a fully autonomous kitchen from the ground up each time for single restaurant is simply not economical. The costs involved are simply too high.
The boxed restaurant concept, a virtual ‘plug & play’ solution, on the other hand makes a great deal of sense.
There is no need toredesign 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 cuts human labor to zero and allows a disruptive profit.
This does not mean that the total solution is flawless. The market for wholly autonomous kitchens/restaurant is not on par with existing more traditional restaurants.
The total solution perception and 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, all restaurants kitchens, if not the restaurant itself, will be fully robotic and automated, and will service its customers with excellence.
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 evolving brands will grow through total solutions while existing brands will attempt to integrate the retrofit module systems.
The future will most likely see an amalgamation of the two perceptions with the market gradually moving towards the fully automated and autonomous kitchen.