Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Business

The Boston restaurant where robots have replaced the chefs

The debate about whether cooking is more art or science is a never-ending one.

But at Spyce, the latest culinary experiment in automation, that debate feels pretty well settled.

Started by a group of 20-something robotics engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology who partnered with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, the new restaurant in downtown Boston is founded on the idea that a fulfilling meal can be more science than spontaneity.

The restaurant’s founders have replaced human chefs with seven automated cooking pots that simultaneously whip up meals in three minutes or less. A brief description of meal preparation - courtesy of 26-year-old co-founder, Michael Farid - can sound more like laboratory instructions than conventional cooking.

"Once you place your order, we have an ingredient delivery system that collects them from the fridge," Farid said. "The ingredients are portioned into the correct sizes and then delivered to a robotic wok, where they are tumbled at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The ingredients are cooked and seared. And once the process is complete, the woks tilt downward and put food into a bowl. And then they’re ready to be garnished and served."

Spyce bills itself as "the world’s first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen that cooks complex meals," a distinction that appears to reference burger-flipping robots like "Flippy," who plied his trade in a California fast food kitchen before being temporary suspended - because he wasn’t working fast enough.

Read More: Flippy can cook a burger, but can it ask if you want fries with that?

A prototype of Spyce’s robotic chef was first assembled in the basement of the co-founders’ fraternity house at MIT.

The restaurant’s dining experience actually begins a few steps before the robots get involved, when customers create customized, compostable bowls that cost $7.50 using colorful touch-screens. Heavy on vegetables and healthy grains, the bowls include a calorie count and have themes such as Latin, Thai, Mediterranean and Hearth.

While meals are cooked, the customer’s name appears on an electronic display above their wok, showing their order. Once finished, hot water jets rinse the inside of woks before another collection of ingredients is dumped inside. Farid said they decided to place the robotic chefs out in the open to remove any lingering mystery.

"We didn’t want to create a black box that produces a meal," Farid said. "We wanted this experience to be exciting."

The restaurant’s motto: "Culinary excellence elevated by technology."

That motto is one that the restaurant industry is beginning to adopt as a whole, experts say. Restaurants across the country already incorporate automated technology, such as "self-service ordering" and "robotic servers," according to a report last year by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The report concluded that jobs that involve "predictable physical activities" - such as cooking or serving food, cleaning kitchens, collecting dirty dishes and preparing beverages - are the most susceptible to automation.

"According to our analysis, 73 percent of the activities workers perform in food service and accommodations have the potential for automation, based on technical considerations," the report said.

Because the industry’s human labor tends to be lower paid, robots cooks have yet to be adopted, the report said. As the technology becomes cheaper and more widespread, however, that could change.

Spyce employs multiple people, a detail that the restaurant’s founders are quick to emphasize when they explain their concept. There’s a friendly "guide" to assist customers with ordering and to ask about your day, according to Farid. Humans prep the food overnight and the restaurant also employs a "garde manger" (French for "keeper of the food") whose job is to add touches like pumpkin seeds, cilantro and crumbled goat cheese before meals are served.

Farid said the robots add efficiency and lower operating costs, but he declined to say by how much. He said he sees the robots enhancing the dining experience, not replacing it, but declined to speculate on whether Spyce is opening the floodgates of a job-killing robot revolution.

"Our restaurant is really efficient because people focus on what people are good at, but the robot handles the high volume tasks - like the cooking and washing - that robots are good at," he said. "At the end of the day, our product is not a technology product - it’s an experience and a delicious meal."

Comments
Tampa Bay Whole Foods can now deliver through Amazon Prime Now

Tampa Bay Whole Foods can now deliver through Amazon Prime Now

Tampa Bay Whole Foods Market shoppers can finally get organic goodies delivered to their homes in a few hours as members of Amazon Prime. Amazon announced today that Whole Foods has added Tampa, nine other metro areas and parts of Seattle and New Yor...
Updated: 10 hours ago
FEMA rolling out new flood zone maps for Tampa Bay counties

FEMA rolling out new flood zone maps for Tampa Bay counties

Thousands of Tampa Bay-area property owners could soon find themselves with new flood zone designations on their homes and businesses.The Federal Emergency Management Agency has completed a years-long study to update flood zone maps in Hillsborough, ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rep. Charlie Crist urges federal consumer watchdog to investigate Marlin Financial

Rep. Charlie Crist urges federal consumer watchdog to investigate Marlin Financial

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is calling for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate Marlin Financial, saying he was "disturbed" by a recent Tampa Bay Times’ investigation into the online auto finance company. In a letter Tuesday af...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Dunkin' to drop Donuts, change name in January

Dunkin' to drop Donuts, change name in January

Dunkin' is dropping the donuts — from its name, anyway.Doughnuts are still on the menu, but the company is renaming itself "Dunkin'" to reflect its increasing emphasis on coffee and other drinks.The change will officially take place ...
Published: 09/25/18
Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

REDINGTON BEACH — Mark Wilson hasn’t had a customer for hours.As the only liquor store on his stretch of Pinellas County beaches, Wilson is used to a steady stream of tourists from the nearby condos and hotels. Other beachfront businesses affected by...
Published: 09/25/18
Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers is its dropping its brand name in exchange for something slimmer: "WW." The company says the new logo - coupled with the tagline "Wellness that Works" -- puts an emphasis on overall health and well being, with less...
Published: 09/24/18
Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Tampa Bay sounds like a home seller’s dream market — even compared to other locales statewide. According to a recent study by SmartAsset, four of the top 10 easiest places to sell a home in Florida are in the bay area. Northern Hillsborough County ac...
Published: 09/24/18
Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Just in time for fall, pump prices are finally declining. Gas prices in Florida averaged $2.72 per gallon Monday, down from $2.74 per gallon a week ago, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Tampa Bay prices were even lower at $2.63 per gallon, down...
Published: 09/24/18
SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

Satellite radio provider Sirius XM said Monday that it would acquire music streaming service Pandora Media for $3.5 billion in a bid to corral listeners who do not want to pay for premium channels.Pandora rose to success by providing tailored radio s...
Published: 09/24/18
Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

TAMPA — As a mutual fund wonder-boy, hedge fund manager and real estate investor, Jeff Vinik has long displayed a sense for knowing when to put money into the next big thing, and his latest bet on e-sports may be no different.Vink recently bought nea...
Published: 09/24/18