Food & Robots, A Match Made In Heaven?

The Lempert Report
November 29, 2016

While Silicon Valley continues to forge relationships with restaurants – from white table cloth to fast food – on developing new foods in the lab to supply chain logistics – one very interesting part of the discussion seem to be about robots.

Robots of all kinds, stand alone human-like forms that talk, take your order and move around to replace waiters, to robotic arms in the backrooms that augment chefs to make food preparation and cooking faster, easier and more exacting. And in some cases, cheaper.

But are they better in the long term?

I would argue, as one who loves technology and is an early adopter (where did I put my Google Glas anyway?) that we are about to witness a push back from consumers as this technology becomes more pervasive. 

Over the past decade or so, led by that food-obsessed Millenial generation, there has never been more interest or scrutiny of the foods we eat and the companies that make them. The trends for sustainability, transparency, free-from and better for you products in general are all at their apex. I have to wonder how people are going to react to products that are touted as homemade, original, artisian will all fare in the world of robots. I doubt the next label claim we will see says “Robot-Made” on the front of a package, or listed on a menu. 

A story in the Washington Post said it best: our culture has fostered a movement that rewards people who grow and prepare food with thoughtfulness, by hand. We’re all about knowing your farmer, shopping small and local, and caring about the human stories behind the food we eat. Which some might argue is in direct contrast to the idea of a robot preparing our foods, or taking our orders.


One also has to ponder just how quickly robotics will replace humans especially in fast food operations, since our President-elect has said countless times that he will fight the proposal to raise the minimum wage. 

Some restaurants that FOX News reports we keep on our radar: 

Eatsa that uses card-only kiosks and cubbies to feed its hungry fans without any human interaction.    

Flirtey, a drone delivery service, has partnerships with 7-Eleven and Domino’s.  

Bionic Bar is on Royal Caribbean cruise lines and passengers use a tablet to place their orders—choosing from a total of 10,100 possible combinations—and then the bionic bar’s robotic arms muddle, shake, slice, stir and strain.  

Zume Pizza cooks its deliveries en route, with 56 ovens on wheels to “bake on the way”. The pizza is made in the company’s kitchen where pizza-making robots  work alongside human chefs. 

Mark Erickson, provost at the Culinary Institute of America told the Washington Post that “robot labor could eliminate low-skilled jobs and lead to the creation of more technical jobs, such as robot maintenance”. Can’t wait to see that show on the Food Network.