Looking at some of the innovations that set apart McDonald’s in the quick-service behemoth’s early days, it immediately stands out how very large an impact very small things had on overall efficiency — and how that efficiency gave the fledgling chain a striking advantage over its competitors.
Imagine taking the time to figure out how much time was saved by slicing all the way through hamburger buns instead of shipping them partially sliced and stuck together in the package, and then turning that data point into a competitive advantage (tip of the hat to Fred L. Turner) all the way back in the 1960s.
Now combine that kind of efficiency hunting with the trends today toward automation and self-service technology, and you get a taste of what’s cooking at new fast casual restaurant concept Spyce.
There’s been plenty of ink spilled here lately about the growing trend toward automating everything possible in the retail space (unattended brick-and-mortar Amazon stores, Chinese BingoBoxes, unmanned Swedish mobile retail RVs piloted in China), but this Boston restaurant is making is a bold move to robotics in the restaurant space.
Spyce, the brainchild of four MIT grads (shocker), says in its media kit that it’s “the world’s first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen that cooks complex meals to order.” But it doesn’t just take the humans out of the kitchen and the cooking process, it takes them out of the ordering process as well. The customer journey begins at self-service touchscreen kiosks that take patrons’ orders. Humans greet customers, prep the ingredients and garnish the finished bowls, but the process appears pretty well hands-off otherwise.
“In today’s fast-paced economy,” the company says in the kit, “Spyce’s robotic kitchen prepares each meal in three minutes or less, providing customers on the go with a wholesome and healthier alternative to traditional fast food.”
But it’s not just techno-nerds creating Top Ramen-level cuisine in their mad scientist lab: “Founded by four MIT graduates with a vision to reinvent fast casual dining, and led by the culinary talent of Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Boulud and Sam Benson, Spyce offers wholesome and delicious meals at $7.50 in three minutes or less,” the company says.
Spyce’s FAQ page also addresses the obvious 500-pound gorilla in the living room, the idea that automation is aimed primarily at cutting labor costs:
Well it’s a new model so we are not “cutting” jobs, but our restaurant does have fewer employees than your typical quick service restaurant. The employees that we do have, we pay well. The aim of this venture was to make tasty nutritious food affordable, and we do that by being as efficient as possible.
The idea that robot replacements are sometimes more valuable for their efficiency and the accompanying reduction in human error than they are for reducing labor costs, is echoed in a report on automation last year from the McKinsey Global Institute (one noted in a Washington Post article about the brand).
And the foodservice industry is much more susceptible to robotic replacements than might be expected, according to the McKinsey report:
Manufacturing, for all its technical potential, is only the second most readily automatable sector in the U.S. economy. A service sector occupies the top spot: accommodations and food service, where almost half of all labor time involves predictable physical activities and the operation of machinery — including preparing, cooking, or serving food; cleaning food-preparation areas; preparing hot and cold beverages; and collecting dirty dishes. According to our analysis, 73 percent of the activities workers perform in food service and accommodations have the potential for automation, based on technical considerations.
I for one welcome our robot overlords: I’ve seen firsthand what goes on in restaurant kitchens, and the fewer hands that touch my food before mine the better.
If you really want to have your mind blown today, check out the video below about Spyce:
(Images and video courtesy of Spyce.)
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