Jeez, they sound fun...
Don’t they just, but that’s the pandemic for you.
What are we talking about here?
Specifically, dumpling restaurant Brooklyn Dumpling Soho, which opens in New York’s East Village next month, and which is described as a fully automated restaurant that ‘will bring the automat of yesteryear into 2020’. But there’s also a wider trend for limited human contact at play.
OK, so tell me more about the dumpling place
Based on the premise that the automat was ‘single handedly the greatest fast food distribution equipment ever designed’, according to the PR blurb, Brooklyn Dumpling Soho uses touchless ordering kiosks and food lockers to provide customers their food without having the tedium of speaking with someone. It will have a Dumpling Lab in the front window with the restaurant’s dumpling making machine for all to see. Customers can place an order on their phone or via one of the restaurant’s touchless kiosks and when it’s ready they receive a text notification to get their special delivery from a marked locker, which will open automatically once the customer scans their barcode. Lockers storing hot food will be red lit indicating it’s 100 degrees, chilled lockers will be blue lit and 28 degrees, while auburn lit lockers will indicate one’s at room temperature. This, boasts the restaurant, will provide an experience that is zero human interaction from start to finish.
It doesn’t sound particularly hospitable...
It doesn’t look it either. The press shots show it to look more like a trendy minimalist shoe shop than a buzzy restaurant. But there are some upsides to this approach, with the restaurant set to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, meaning that if you rolled up drunk at 4am looking for one of its French onion soup or peanut butter and jelly dumplings, not only will you not leave hungry you won’t be judged on your state of insobriety.
Every cloud. So, what has this got to do with the UK restaurant scene?
It could be a glimpse into a dystopian front-of-house free future where human interaction in restaurants is regarded as horribly dangerous act that could spread disease. OK, we’re probably getting a bit carried away, but the need for distancing in restaurants post lockdown has led to a number of restaurant groups over here adopting similar tactics. Take Vietnamese restaurant brand HộP Vietnamese which earlier this week reopened one of its sites using in store screens for ordering to reduce the number of staff on the restaurant floor. “In these times, the option to order without human interaction using the kiosks or click & collect will really appeal,” says HộP Vietnamese founder Paul Hopper, who intends to roll out the technology across the group’s five sites. Sushi chain Itsu has gone one further with its ‘store of the future’ on London’s Great Portland Street that not only makes use of cashless kiosk screens for ordering and a central collection point rather than fridges but uses sushi-making robots from Japan in its kitchen. The maki and nigiri sushi robots remove unnecessary handling - they also don’t get flu, says the company - with one robot capable of making 4,800 pieces of sushi every hour.
This truly is a brave new world
Steady on. While pay kiosks are still a relatively new idea for the hospitality sector in general, they can hardly be considered futuristic. Wahaca’s spin-off burrito brand Burrito Mama was using them seven years ago and pop into any McDonald’s and you’ll most likely be greeted with a touch screen than a member of staff. Even the ideas of ‘lockers’ holding food has been done before. Sixty-strong Dutch restaurant chain FEBO has long been known for its automat-style restaurants where much of the food it serves, such as krokets, frikandellen, and hamburgers can be bought from vending machines within its restaurants. Only now, however, does this approach seem to be being taken more seriously, and it’s all thanks to Coronavirus.