Meet the Robots That Will Be Making Our Food

Chains such as Sweetgreen are turning to automation to cut costs and speed up service
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2023 5:00 PM CDT
Meet the Robots That Will Be Making Our Food
A worker lifts a lunch bowl off the production line at Spyce, a restaurant that uses a robotic cooking process, in Boston.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The new workers at restaurant chains like Sweetgreen require an entirely different type of employee training, and definitely won't fit in the typical uniforms. The company is going fully in on automating their salad prep, the Wall Street Journal reports, and while depending on machines to handle soft and squishy ingredients might not seem like the most natural pairing, other restaurants are following suit. Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman says they are "100% in on automation," with plans to mass produce the salad-making robot they launched this year at an Illinois location. "A lot of other companies are trying to figure out how to add automation to their experience and are not willing to start over," he says. "I'm willing to blow the whole thing up."

The Journal notes that while some chains like McDonald's abandoned an experimental robot fryer, other chains are testing the waters. White Castle has rolled out "Flippy," a robot that fries food like potatoes and onions, to more locations, while Chipotle Mexican Grill is trying out an automated system that piles ingredients into their bowls and salads. Kura Sushi is trying to cut down on hiring and training sushi chefs by using a robot to spread rice on their rolls. "We know that it's unrealistic for us to get 5-, 10-, 20-year trained sushi masters, so that's why we use these robots to get the best possible results," says Kura's Benjamin Porten.

But Sweetgreen stands out. In 2021, they purchased Spyce Kitchen, a startup out of Boston created by MIT engineers who developed robotic makelines in the kitchen, according to the Spoon. They spent two years crafting a salad-making robot, which can whip up a meal in five minutes by shooting ingredients through various tubes (while their human counterparts typically take 15 minutes to fill an order). Along with efficiency, the company believes replacing workers will save money, though human supervision is still needed. Sweetgreen's first robotic kitchen, dubbed Infinite Kitchen, opened in May, with plans to retrofit it into existing locations. (Robots are taking a lot of jobs in Vegas).

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