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Cafe X | Courtesy of Ammunition
Cafe X | Courtesy of Ammunition

Are Robots Taking Over the Restaurant Industry in San Francisco?

Picture of Amber C. Snider
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 8 March 2018

Robots designed specifically for the food and beverage industry are popping up around San Francisco, signifying a new trend in automated services for the tech-savvy Bay area.

Have you ever found yourself in line at a busy coffee shop, where the thought of speaking to another human being before you’ve had your caffeine dose feels…like vague torture? Well, if you find yourself in San Francisco anytime soon, a new café staffed by robots will take that pre-morning-coffee-awkwardness out of the equation. 

Cafe X Technologies teamed up with designers over at Ammunition to create a new and improved, robotic coffee maker with “a modern, architectural feel.” The robot even waves after it hands over your brew. Guests can experience the welcoming, java slinging robot first-hand at Cafe X’s latest location (which opened today) at One Bush Plaza in the Financial District.

The automation process begins with ordering: customers can select from an offering of espresso-based beverages through either the kiosks or a dedicated app, and then the robot goes to work. Customers never have to speak to anyone unless they want to, but if they do want to muse about the beans and blends, there’s also an on-site staff of coffee specialists.

“There’s a sense of wonder when you first see the robot arm deliver your coffee and then wave at you. We wanted to bring that same sense of delight to customers in their digital ordering experience,” says Chris Chang, Senior Designer at Y Media Labs, who worked on animations for Cafe X’s digital systems. 


Cafe X | Courtesy of Ammunition

“The new design makes it possible for Cafe X to be in almost any location,” says Founder and CEO Henry Hu, signaling the growing trend in service robots. In an age where Keurigs and coffee pods have dominated the automatic coffee-making experience, this design signals a major new shift in technology. Michael Sheridan, Director of Sourcing & Shared Value at Intelligentsia Coffee, says that Cafe X moves “beyond the tired paradigm of capsules and pods with a radical vision that marries an unwavering commitment to quality with technological innovation.”

And it’s not only coffee shops that are getting an automated touch; other businesses have also adapted this model of robotic design. Zume Pizza currently employs robots for their pizza assembly line, “where [they] do the job of pressing dough up to five times faster than even the most seasoned pizza spinning pros,” reports The Verge. Despite the presence of robots in the kitchen, the pizza delivery company still employs 115 human beings full-time.

“We currently have 5 robots plus our doughbot (a machine, not a robot) in our kitchen working in a co-bot environment alongside our pizza cooks,” a representative of Zume Pizza tells Culture Trip. The robots takes on the dangerous and/or repetitive tasks, so that human employees can “focus on more rewarding work, like scratch cooking and recipe development.”

On a slightly more ambitious scale, designers at Moley Robotics created the world’s first robotic kitchen, which is set to launch for consumers some time this year. The fully-functional robot is integrated into the professional kitchen, where it can reportedly cook with the skill and flair of a master chef, mimicking the sensitivity, speed, and movement of human hands. The robotic kitchen will also be supported by a library full of digital, programmable recipes, so you can get gourmet meals just like a master chef would prepare them.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), “Sales in service robots for professional use will increase 12 percent by the end of 2017 to a new record of 5.2 billion U.S. dollars.” They also report an expected average growth rate of 20 to 25 percent between 2018 and 2020. Whatever your stance on robots in the kitchen is, one thing is clear: this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.