Robot kitchen rules: six strange ways tech is going to change restaurants

Angus Kidman 5 June 2017

Restaurant_Shutterstock738

From 3D printing to "do you really need to order that, fatso"?

I remember being in a fancy high-end restaurant in Las Vegas a few years ago and being impressed that you could scroll through the entire wine list on a tablet computer. The tablet was from HP, as I recall - this was before iPad and tablet became virtually synonymous.

In 2017, I'd find that scenario entirely unremarkable. Waiters using tablets for taking orders are commonplace, and tablets themselves are no longer a boom market. But that doesn't mean that technology isn't continuing to shape the restaurant experience.

A recent report from Oracle, Restaurants 2025, examines some of the likely enhancements we'll see in restaurants, and also surveyed 250 operators and 702 customers around the world to see whether they think they're a wise idea. Here are six of the more unusual suggestions.

Face recognition for patrons is a winner

33% of restaurant operators expect that facial biometrics will be in use to recognise customers as they enter the premises. And while that might sound creepy as to some folks, it's not universally rejected: 49% of people think this would be an improvement, and 31% would visit a restaurant more often if this happens. Naturally, such enthusiasm is predicated on the notion that you'll get nicer service as a result of being a loyal customer.

Talking about your diet is a turn-off

If you visit an establishment regularly, it would be easy for a digital menu to make suggestions based on your previous dining history, and it seems likely that will become more common in the future. Almost three-quarters (72%) of hotel operators expect this to happen within the next decade. But restauranteurs shouldn't make the mistake of making suggestions based on health: 42% of patrons find that a big turn-off.

Yes, that's your waiter wearing a Fitbit

Well, not a Fitbit exactly, but some kind of activity tracker. More than half of all restaurant operators (51%) think they'll be monitoring staff via wearable devices within the next five years. That sounds invasive and appalling to me, particularly for US waitstaff who have to rely on tips and don't score minimum wage as it is. Doesn't mean it won't happen though.

Ditch the crockery supplier, get a 3D printer

This one's less shocking: 44% of restaurant operators expect that 3D printing will routinely be used for producing cutlery and plates by 2025. This will be heavily reliant on the price of printing materials coming down, I'd assume, and I don't suppose it's going to happen anywhere that is run by Marco Pierre White.

Turn the lights down low, baby

Being in a restaurant with excessively bright lighting and/or loud pan pipe music is a definite turn-off. So it's no surprise that 38% of diners think that being able to adjust lighting and music where they're seated through voice control would be appealing. Be tricky if a voice war starts between you and the next table over whether to let that Meatloaf song get to the end though.

Managers lust after robot cleaners

Finally, an odd statistic: 64% of people running restaurants say that the use of robots for cleaning is "very appealing". I'm sure a Roomba could add to the dust removal experience, but I'm not sure whether a robot will be deemed sufficient to meet health regulations in the kitchen itself.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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