Iceland is having a bit of a moment right now, thanks to the success of Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, which stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as Icelandic singers. Oh, and also because Glacierfire launched a robotic bar/restaurant called Ice+Fries there a couple months back.
Ice+Fries features two robotic arms, dubbed Tipsy Floki and Ragnar, that can mix up to 100 cocktails per hour and 1,500 cocktails a day without human intervention. It also sports a 3D printer that prints out fancy desserts and garnishes for drinks. There’s even a robotic Aibo dog that wanders the bar. But the automation is woven much more deeply into the very fabric of the restaurant.
I spoke with Glacierfire CEO Priyesh Patel by phone this week, who explained some of the smarts that goes into the restaurant. The robo-bartenders themselves are made by Makr Shakr, but Glacierfire has integrated its own software stack that keeps the bar running, including order management, timesheets, ingredient/temperature monitoring, etc. There is also a healthy amount of artificial intelligence (AI) implemented.
Patel explained how they use the AI with facial recognition for a number of different purposes. The facial recognition will guide people as to where they pick up their orders. It can also be used in determining if there are underaged people trying to order alcoholic drinks (the drinking age in Iceland is 20). The AI+facial recogntion combo is also used to gauge sentiment in the bar. (i.e., Are customers happy?) Your mileage may vary on whether or not you find that kind of monitoring useful or creepy.
Ice+Fries isn’t completely human-less. The food is still cooked by people, and there are technicians on hand to deal with the robots. But in building the automated experience Patel echoed the sentiment of many food robot companies: If you can use robots to lower labor costs, then you can pass that savings on to the consumer. Patel said that cocktails in Iceland are typically $15 per drink, but Ice+Fries can serve them at $10.
Ice+Fries has only been open since April in Iceland, so we have yet to prove that those economics bear out. Here in the U.S., Miso Robotics found that its first generation of Flippy robots were too expensive for many QSRs. Robot barista Cafe X had to shutter its downtown locations, and robot burger joint, Creator, recently closed its restaurant down as well.
To be fair, Creator’s shutdown was more attributable to the global pandemic that closed dine in operations at restaurants around the country. According to Patel, Iceland was able to avoid COVID-induced lockdowns. But as the virus continues to rage on here in the U.S., Ice & Fries might actually model what a restaurant will look like post-pandemic.
Setting aside the close quarters and inside nature of the restaurant for a moment, the Ice & Fries experience is contactless, a key feature in these coronavirus times. While orders can be done on a touchscreen, there is also a mobile app customers can use, and robot bartenders remove one more vector of human-to-human viral transmission.
The first Ice+Fries is located in Reykjavik, Iceland, but the company has plans for expansions into Lisbon, Portugal, and Paris, France. Patel said Galcierfire has a two-pronged go-to market strategy for this robot restaurant concept. The first is to build out and launch its own branded restaurants, and the second it to license the Ice+Fries technology out to third-party restaurant companies looking to create similar concepts.
Who knows? If this takes off, we could all be singing an Icelandic song of Ice+Fries.