Are food lockers the wave of the future?

Illustration for article titled Are food lockers the wave of the future?
Photo: Xinhua News Agency / Contributor (Getty Images)

Fast food chains have been exploring the concept of food lockers during the pandemic as a contactless way to hand off food to customers. They’re not a new concept, but the idea’s being revisited by chains in order to also improve efficiency and wait times. The only place near me that employs food lockers is Little Caesars (aptly called the “Pizza Portal”), but I could easily see this kind of thing being more commonplace sooner than later.


Insider explores the possibilities. Lockers can vary in terms of purpose and ability, whether it’s to hold hot or cold food; some of them are even equipped with UV light to ward off bacteria. This is also an efficient way to hold food for delivery drivers. Chains are playing with different methods for unlocking the lockers, like a traditional PIN pad with a code, scanned QR codes, or even a reply to a text message.

Food lockers, however, aren’t being limited to restaurants. Alchemista, a company that formerly catered food to corporate clients like TripAdvisor and Moderna, has pivoted to food lockers. Currently its working on expansion to residential buildings; after that, there are plans to bring food lockers to offices, sports centers, and college campuses. Free office lunch might look a lot different when we return. But keep an eye out: it looks like we might be dealing with our own little cubbyholes to pick up a quick meal in the future.

Then, of course, there’s the automat, the old wave of the future, that may be evolving into the new wave of the future. We’ve been thinking about automats for a while now. I really wish we had an automat in Chicago. I have always wanted to use one even though I know really it’s just a glorified vending machine.

Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.


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With COVID killing our free time, my girlfriend got us into watching these narration-free videos of various Asian food experiences, and they covered food lockers 2 years ago in this video of Singapore’s first automated restaurant:

I wonder if it’s weird for the employees preparing the food behind the scenes to be entirely without contact to the customers, or if it’s soothing not to have to put up with their nonsense. In Singapore it seems to be the honor system for who gets to take what, but like the article says, I’m sure here in the US it’d have to be app-based or something along those lines, maybe buzzers for folks who don’t have their phones on them.

As for automats, the channel covers a lot of Asian food vending machines, there seems to be a lot of microwave-based hot food vending machines there, and they have “automat diners” which are vending machine cafes, varying wildly from Taiwan:

to Singapore:

and even to an older one in Japan:

While it might be fun to visit here in the US, I cannot imagine this catching on here as folks seem to want “service” more than anything, to watch someone make their food.