Innovation is key to staying alive and well in any industry — and the restaurant world is hardly exempt.
While we haven’t yet reached Jetson’s territory in terms of pressing a button and having meatloaf and mashed potatoes appear in front of us via pneumatic tube, it may be closer than we think.
With the future of food upon us, let’s take a closer look at three ways automation shook up the scene at May’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, along with highlighting some other food trends expected to disrupt the restaurant industry.
1. Sushi Robots
If the word “sushibot” sounds like a concept from a science fiction movie, think again. Long an art form in Asia, sushi has gotten a high-tech upgrade thanks to Japanese Suzumo International. And while the company’s sushi robots generated plenty of buzz at the NRA show, they’re hardly new.
In fact, Suzumo claims that the invention of its very first sushi robot dates all the way back to 1981!
Today, these counter-top machines can churn out rice mounds at a staggeringly fast rate of 3,600 per hour. Just place a piece of fish on top, and nigiri sushi is good to go. Another one of the company’s models can produce 300 sushi rolls an hour.
The ultimate goal according to a Suzumo video? “To precisely recreate the handmade taste and technique used by an experienced sushi chef.” (Whether this is actually possible remains to be seen.)
But Suzumo is just one of the sushibot companies garnering buzz. Robotic Sushi, Taiko Enterprises, and Rolling Mate all offer different sushi-making machines all aimed at reproducing this global favorite.
Curious about how the sushibot works? Check out the amazing sushi-rolling action here.
2. Salad Robots
Salad bars take up critical restaurant floor space while constituting a threat to public health and hygiene.
But what if restaurants could offer diners all of the customization of the much-loved salad bar without these downsides? Enter California-based Casabots’ salad-making machine.
Promising to “change the way food is made,” Casabots aims to increase quality, efficiency and dependability by using robots to create salads and other meals.
Described by Nation’s Restaurant News as a “mechanical refrigerator with computerized touchscreen controls,” the salad robot, currently still in prototype phase but expected to hit the market by the end of 2016, has a 28-inch-square footprint — making it a surprisingly tidy addition to any restaurant kitchen countertop.
Can’t quite picture it? Click here to watch “Sally” the salad-making robot do her thing.
What’s up after salads for Casabots? The company plans to expand to other cuisines, starting with Mexican, Asian-inspired fare, and Homer Simson’s favorite: donuts!
Another robot from the Korean Institute of Science and Technology’s (KIST) Center for Intelligent Robotics (CIR), meanwhile, is skilled at salad tossing duties, including everything from slicing cucumbers to pouring dressing.
3. French Fry Robots
The average American eats 30 pounds of French fries every year, according to statistics from Fox News. But making those salty, crispy potato sticks of deliciousness is about to get significantly easier, thanks to a new kind of electronic employee: the automated fry cook.
This tireless machine handles all of the dumping, lifting and other chores associated with traditional deep frying methods.
The collaboration of kitchen equipment manufacturers Middleby Corp. and Pitco and Rethink Robotics, the fry cook robot represents a solution to labor shortages and high turnover rates by offering 35,500 hours of continuous repeatability over a five-year-plus life span for just $30,000.
See the future of French fry making for yourself HERE.
Robotic innovations aren’t limited to food, however. In the beverages market, for example, “robo-baristas,” are anticipated to forever alter the way humans do coffee.
And while insiders predict that these automated coffee kiosks may one day threaten Starbucks with obsolescence, until then tried and trusty coffee makers will have to do.
And robots are just one of the many forms of technology expected to transform the food industry in the years ahead. From 3-D food printing to conveyor belts taking over for waiters, the future of food has never been more exciting. Take that, George and Judy!