The city of Boston is home to many universities, thus causing it to be home to many broke college students. Yet, even with the mass amount of students in the city, Boston is not one of the cheapest places to live. When Michael Farid, Brady Knight, Kale Rogers, and Luke Schlueter were studying at MIT they found it impossible to find a cheap meal in Boston that was decent quality and somewhat healthy. Unable to afford spending $10 to $12 on a single meal, they decided to create their own affordable cuisine. As robotic-obsessed engineers they set out to find a new efficient way of cooking food, creating prototypes in their fraternity basement, the idea of Spyce was born.
Spyce is a fast-casual, quick service restaurant that serves bowls, with the help from technology. It is one of the world’s first restaurant with a robotic kitchen that cooks the complete meal for customers. The entire experience at Spyce requires customers to be constantly interacting with technology. The founders paired up with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud to create a high-quality nutritious menu, consisting of seven bowl options, offering grain, chicken and veggie bowls (Spyce also offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options). The kitchen at Spyce consists of a machine, loaded up with prepped ingredients, that measures out the correct amount of each ingredient for the order and dispenses it into a wok to be cooked. Orders are placed at an electronic kiosk on a touch screen that gives the initial seven options, which are customizable if the customer should choose to alter the ingredients. Then a screen displays your order while the machine begins working, grabbing the ingredients needed from the refrigerated chambers. The machine cooks by constantly tumbling around the ingredients, providing a nice and even sear, while simultaneously mixing the ingredients. Heated with induction and monitored by temperature control, each meal is guaranteed to be cooked perfectly. Then the machine self-cleans and begins the next order. All orders are made in three minutes or less.
Although the machines are autonomous, there are some human employees at Spyce. Off-site there are employees who wash, cut and prep the ingredients beforehand so everything is ready to go when a customer orders. On-site there are employees who load the ingredients into the machine and place the toppings requested by the customer on the bowl (yogurt, herbs, ect). There are also workers who monitor and help the customers with questions while ordering.
Although the employees at Spyce are needed for things the machine cannot do, like the final step of adding the topping, I also feel as though the employees are there to ease the transition of a technology-based eatery into society. This being one of the first, the founders had no idea how people would react to such a strange and unfamiliar system, it would be uneasy for many to order, pay and receive their meal without any human interaction. Will there one day be a restaurant with no human employees, with everything automated leaving no need for hiring humans?
The machine allows the restaurant to fit into a smaller location, saving money on rent and production costs, and due to the reduced labor costs and efficiency of the machine Spyce is able to price their bowls starting at $7.50. Achieving the original goal of the company, to provide good-quality nutritious food at a reasonable price point that is affordable to people at all income levels, while also giving the restaurant a competitive advantage since their price is set lower than bowls served at other restaurants.
Spyce opened its first and currently only location, in Downtown Crossing, in May of 2018. It was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 for 2019, stating that it has secured $24.8 million dollars in funding. With $21 million of that funded in September 2018 through the venture capital firms: Maveron, Collaborative Fund, and Khosla Ventures.The co-founders have said they plan to use the funding to open up new locations expanding along the east coast and improve the technology to become more efficient.
What does this mean for the future of restaurants? As one of the world’s first restaurants that uses technology to fully cook the meals of customers, Spyce has the ability to change the food industry. The founders have stated that their goal is not to replace human chefs but to help them work faster and increase efficiency. With the estimate trajectory, according to McKinsey Global Institute, that 400 to 800 million jobs will be automated by 2030 due to the advances in robotics, I can only wonder if this technology, although not the original purpose, will begin taking over the jobs of employees at fast-casual restaurants.
There are many pros to having a completed automated system in the food service industry; it would eliminate the possibility of an E.Coli outbreak caused by unknowingly sick employees, human error would no longer slow down the efficiency, and assuming the technology works correctly each order would be made perfectly eliminating the waste created when an order is wrong. But are people ready to rely solely on technology to prepare their food?
Spyce may have been one of the first restaurants to cook meals completely through a machine but many similar technologies have emerged recently. In 2017, the California based startup Miso Robotics introduced a machine named ‘Flippy’, an automated fast-food burger flipper, that operates at a speed twice as fast as humans. This machine is used at various CaliBurger restaurants, although it is still only considered a ‘kitchen assistant’ and cannot complete the entire order on its own. In June, just one month after Spyce opened in Boston, a burger restaurant named Creator opened in San Francisco with an automated burger machine (pictured below) that produces burgers costing only $6 for customers. The machine is an all-inclusive burger-making device that accomplishes each step of the burger making process. Creator, similar to Spyce, still includes human employees in the restaurant to take orders, make the sauce and answer customers questions. And about 2 years ago Cafe X, a wireless coffee kiosk with a six-axis robotic arm catered to serve coffee, opened up in San Francisco.
The food industry has seen many technological advances in the recent years, but could automated machines be the future for restaurants across various types of food?