“Contactless” in the restaurant biz nowadays usually refers to digital order and pay processes that lessen but don’t totally eradicate human-to-human contact. After all, someone has to bring the food out, whether in the dining room or at the curbside, and the robots haven’t totally taken over quite yet.
But a forthcoming store in Brooklyn has figured out a way to take human beings out of the picture entirely. The Brooklyn Dumpling Shop (BDS) is slated to open in October (confusingly in Manhattan) and will feature what the business calls Z.H.I. — “zero human interaction,” according to QSR magazine.
The fully automated restaurant concept will rely on temperature-controlled food lockers from ONDO and powered by Panasonic. Think of a high-tech version of the classic Automats of mid-20th century NYC. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what Brooklyn Chop House’s Stratis Morfogen, who conceptualized BDS, was going for:
“The Automat was single handedly the greatest fast food distribution equipment ever designed. The technology we’re bringing to Brooklyn Dumpling Shop is unlike anything seen before, which will allow us to create an Autoflow from a customers’ cell phone, to our touchless ordering kiosks, right to our lockers to bring quick serve restaurants into the 21st century,” he said in today’s press release.
With this automat 2.0, Customers will be able to place an order on their phone or at the restaurant via a touchless kiosk. Once the food is cooked, a runner places it in the food locker and a notification is sent to the customer’s phone. The customer unlocks their designated locker with a code to retrieve their food. Locker temperatures can be set to “hot,” “cold,” and “ambient,” to allow for more precise temperature control during the pickup process. BDS also said its food will be available via the major third-party delivery platforms.
BDS is one the first “new” restaurant formats we’ve heard of that’s legitimately contactless, which makes it an inherently attractive concept in the midst of a global health crisis.
More intriguing, though, is that Morfogen mined the past to help design the future restaurant format — one of them, anyway. The Automat, which was originally developed at the end of the 19th century, became immensely popular during its lifespan because it provided a fast, cheap, efficient way to grab a bite to eat. It served a huge variety of food, and there was zero interaction between customers and those making the food. (Side note: the format wasn’t without its controversies around labor, which should be considered in this day and age.)
Thanks especially to the pandemic, those customer demands for speed, efficiency, and cheap eats are back in full force, so when you stop and think about it, an Automat format seems like a no-brainer. And it’s probably a concept that will make its way into all manner of public settings sooner rather than later, whether that’s a restaurant, the airport, and office buildings, among others. And BDS isn’t the first time someone’s tried to reinvent the automat: Minnow just raised a seed round for its contactless food lockers, which the company is installing residential buildings, and Brightloom (née Eatsa) has been pedaling a high-tech version of the Automat for years now.
In the meantime, it might behoove the restaurant industry to further mine past concepts that, a bit of a digital facelift might very well still make sense today.