While throngs of people lined up on Tuesday in Seattle to get into Amazon’s store of the future, about 800 miles south Cafe-X was busy marching forward with its plan to reinvent the coffee shop. The company opened a second location to serve robot-crafted coffee at 578 Market Street. Cafe-X is positioning the new store, located at the busy intersection of Market and 2nd Street in downtown San Francisco, as the company’s flagship location.
I stumbled upon the new location on my way to BART to head to the airport and catch a plane back to Seattle (Amazon Go, here I come). While I was running a little late for my flight, I decided to head in anyways. I mean, how often to get go to opening day of a robot-coffee shop?
When I walked in, there were a handful of people inputting their orders on order stations, which look like iPads running customized software. The coffee shop basically consisted of the three order stations on the left wall, a sugar/stir station on the right wall, and a big glass enclosure in the middle where the ‘barista’ worked its magic.
The robot barista consists of a Mitsubishi industrial robot arm, two espresso machines and a cubby system for handing out drinks to the customers. As you can see in the video below, the arm busily shuffles cups between the two coffee machines and then places prepared coffee drinks at the assigned cubby for customers to pick them up.
The order flow for Cafe-X is pretty smooth. The customer selects his or her drink and the order station asks for a mobile phone number. When your drink is ready, you get a text with a four digit code which you input into a keypad at one of pick up cubbies. From there, the robot arm picks up your drink and puts it in the right cubby location.
As with eatsa, the store is not completely run by robots. When you enter Cafe-X, you are greeted by a friendly human (at least I think he was human) who answers questions and explains how everything works. In a way it makes sense and, paradoxically, actually makes the service seem a bit more customer-service friendly than a traditional coffee shop experience which, in my experience, often seems impersonal and transactional.
The customer service person told me that a typical day at the company’s first location has about 200-300 customers coming through. I also heard him tell another customer that they plan on eventually offering different sizes of coffee (right now it’s one standard size, roughly equivalent to a “tall” cup at Starbucks).