They’re not sentient yet, but in June 2018, robots made big strides in the restaurant world.
Four Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni, backed by a Michelin-rated chef, opened a restaurant in Boston called Spyce, which is staffed mainly by seven robots. According to a report in The Daily Meal, customers order meals on a touchscreen, and the robots cook the food in three minutes or less. Spyce does have three carbon-based life forms on staff, two of whom garnish and deliver bowls to diners and one on standby to guide guests through the ordering process.
CaliBurger, which has 50 locations in California, recently debuted Flippy, a burger-flipping robot, at its Pasadena restaurant. The excited crowds that filled the restaurant eventually overwhelmed Flippy’s 2,000-burger-a-day capacity, briefly taking him offline for upgrades that would increase his flip count.
Bottom line, industry leaders are investing in robotics. In addition to reducing headcount, these mechanized employees save time and money on training, reduce downtime, rarely call in sick and never take vacation or personal time. And while Flippy may have had a few technical issues out of the gate, they highlight another advantage: he improved foot traffic to such a degree that even he couldn’t keep up with demand.
Despite this futuristic advance in robots and automation, most restaurants are going to continue need good human talent for the foreseeable future. But advances in technology are helping commercial kitchen workers be more effective and efficient in key areas. For example, even after Flippy cooks all those burgers, you’ll still likely need a person to clean your flat-top griddle.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making it possible for technology like sensors, Wi-Fi-enabled kitchen equipment, timers, and other devices to communicate, collect data, and self-regulate. For example, sensors in refrigerators and freezers can sense whether food is being kept at appropriate temperatures to prevent food-borne illness and reduce food waste due to premature spoilage, according to a study from the University of Derby.
Cooking equipment automation is helping restaurants improve cooking outcomes and efficiency, says Richard Young, director of education at Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, California, an organization which promotes energy efficiency in food service. But the cooking innovations don’t stop there. Combination ovens can cook with dry heat or steam. And rapid-cook ovens use a combination of hot air and microwave technology. As the technology advances, connected sensors help determine when food is cooked perfectly, reducing food waste from over- or undercooking.
But cooking innovation doesn’t stop there, Young says. Automated double-sided commercial griddles have plates that cover food and cook from the top and bottom at the same time, which can give you twice the through-put from a cooking standpoint, he adds.
Other commercial griddle innovations include advanced thermostats that automatically regulate griddle temperature, allowing you to ensure that foods of different thicknesses cook properly. This helps reduce food waste and improve energy efficiency. Because the sensors on this cooking equipment and the commercial griddles are essential to their effectiveness, it is essential that proper commercial kitchen deep cleaning take place to protect the equipment.
Fryers aren’t what they used to be—vats filled with oil of dubious quality, creating a need for constant restaurant grease removal. “Automated controls and cooking processes cut labor and eliminate safety issues while boosting the quality and consistency of fried foods,” according to a 2017 analysis in Foodservice Equipment Reports. Built-in oil filtration, temperature sensors, and even oil quality monitors are among the connected technology that helps restaurant owners better manage food outcomes and oil quality.
As more technology makes its way into commercial kitchens, everything from the amount of labor needed to overall restaurant costs could improve for restaurant owners and managers. With the advent of 5G, and the greater connectivity the next wave of broadband will enable, this is an area ready for more innovation and advances.
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