The Future is Now
Robots and Technology Rule 2022 National Restaurant Association Show
My childhood was filled with great robots. Johnny 5 was an endearing military robot in Short Circuit; Rosie enjoyed cleaning and cooking for the Jetsons; Conky produced the secret word on Pee Wee’s Playhouse each week; and Vicki was an android in the form of a 10-year old girl on Small Wonder. These characters were someone’s vision of the future produced for the screen and, at the time, didn’t seem possible.
Well, a few weeks ago, I ventured to Chicago, IL, and these characters, or some version of them, have become a reality. The 2022 National Restaurant Association Show provided the opportunity to interact with a variety of robots and discover innovative equipment and technology. It’s taken me some time to sort through who and what my favorites were from the show, but I think I narrowed it down to a few.
If you’re not a regular on the elite|studio e blog, you should know this isn’t my first time at a foodservice industry show … I’ve been in the business for 10+ years and I’ve never seen a sushi robot! Apparently, Suzumo developed the first Sushi Robot in 1981 and has since developed 70 equipment models. The model displayed at this year’s show features an LCD touchscreen; simple construction so it excels in sanitariness and washability; and is equipped with a heater so sushi rice can be kept at the optimal temperature. I was weary to try the finished product at first, but I was impressed. The main purpose of the sushi robots is to improve efficiency and cut down on time spent wrapping rolls and cutting them up. Unfortunately, they’re not going to provide any type of action and entertainment like a traditional sushi bar.
Next up ... meet Adam (pictured in image on the top right). Adam is a robot barista created by Richtech Robotics. Basically, customers order from a tablet and the dual-arm system creates the coffee based on presets programmed by the restaurant or operator. Adam has an Intel artificial intelligence depth sensor camera and a speaker to interact with your guests or customers. Make a note of the blue led horizontal strip in the eye area. Plus, according to a recent article, Adam will be going to bartending school soon.
Now, I’m going to deter from the robots and dive into some new equipment that’s out there. It can’t all be about artificial intelligence … not yet anyway.
The star of the 2022 National Restaurant Show, in my opinion (and others at the show as seen in the Instagram post above), is SerVue. It’s beautiful and practical. The unit is a touchless refrigerated slide-in that displays fresh ingredients in a way that makes checking and refilling them a breeze for the operator. I had the opportunity to speak with some of the team at Vollrath, who manufacturers the unit, and assuming it takes off they’re hoping to provide lots of future options. No promises but some of the ideas include refrigerated and ambient units, and a variety of menu options like oatmeal and yogurt. SerVue can be sold separately or built into a new custom serving system.
I’m really excited about this product. I can see SerVue being built into a corporate café or as a fresh food option in to a Micromarket … even an airline lounge could put this in!
Seriously, there are endless possibilities and so many benefits to the customer, the operator and client.
Like SerVue, this next one provides the opportunity for the customer to see, smell and experience some of the culinary magic. At the show, Woodstone shared its latest model of the vertical broiler. I’ve implemented previous versions of this in several projects, including a New York City food hall, but the latest model allows different foods to be cooked at the same time. And, while the front glass door is standard, there is an option to add a rear access door so it can be loaded from either side. It’s a win from the labor side and the customer can still watch food being crafted.
Another trend I saw a lot of at the National Restaurant Show was automated machines. It’s not new but it’s certainly increased since the last one. Automated baristas, mixed drink dispensers, and smoothies are among the offering. Our team has seen a recent interest in the Multiplex Smoothie Machine, so I’ll share a bit on this refreshing experience. The Multiplex can make more than 30 drinks an hour, including smoothies, lemonade, Frappuccinos and milkshakes. Plus, it blends the product decreasing waste, simplifying sanitation and providing efficient experience.
So, what’s with all the automation and robots? According to Restaurant Dive, it’s happening against the backdrop of a tight labor market and, of course, the pandemic comes into play too. Hygiene, employee illness and labor costs can all attribute to this. In my role at elite|studio e, we’re seeing all of it and the implementation of automation and robots is just one way to help solve these challenges. We’re working with our clients to design and build a variety of innovative and creative foodservice solutions. So, if you see something here you’re interested in or want to develop a different idea, let me know.