Introducing Robotic Refreshment

Sept. 10, 2015

Research tells us the millennial generation likes to interact with machines. However research (in a loose sense of the term) once also suggested the world was flat. So forget research, let’s get in our boats and go see if this is true. This will be easiest in California. Why? Because beyond the self-checkout systems you can interact with at grocery stores, libraries, parking garages, car washes, toll booths, airports and break rooms, there is a new self-checkout in town – a robotic restaurant.  

I am taking liberties here. There isn’t actually a robot handing out food, however, the Eatsa restaurant in the Bay Area of California doesn’t have human servers or even a cashier. In essence, it’s a huge food “machine” that serves entrées to customers. The difference is that the Eatsa restaurant is very high tech and sophisticated. The “machine” doors open so patrons can pick up. They know which door to open because each has a digital display with an order number and patron name – they even show an animated cartoon figure when the meal is nearly ready. Ordering is done from a mobile device and then it is prepared by real people behind the glass wall (not a curtain – this isn’t the Wizard of Oz). 

More than automated retailing 

In truth Eatsa is about more than automating food delivery and using today’s technology to offer Millennials fast and efficient refreshment. All the food is centered on quinoa as the protein and they have a goal to make fast food healthier. That aside, I still think this is an interesting development for our industry. The restaurant just opened at the end of August so we’ll have to see how it does. Will people really want a completely person-less dining experience? If yes, that would be great news for us.  

What comes to mind for me in the future of our industry is the idea that customers could order entrees from the operator that could be delivered the next day (or even same day) to their desk or breakroom. This wouldn’t be so far off. Already, the industry has taken huge leaps with providing food and drinks to customers in new ways. Micro markets and even office coffee service (OCS) are able to offer the variety of products, including trendy superfoods like quinoa. Customers are better able to customize their services with micro markets and OCS choosing certain products over others from a large list. Many do so only using a kiosk, mobile app or computer. This all sounds like the younger generation wants to interact with machines and kiosks.  

I’ve read all the reasons machines will do more for us in the future. They are more efficient (when supported by humans), they allow us to do more with less (important with costs rising, including minimum wages) and they impress us (as consumers) with bright lights and digital displays.  And while I’m not arguing for (or against) the automation of everything, it is going to give the vending industry even more of an opportunity in the coming decade.