Self-order kiosks aren’t going away. Not only are they convenient for customers who want to avoid small talk or take their time looking at the menu, but we now know that this technology allows restaurants to save money on labor while getting us to spend more. Now that fast food and chain restaurants have figured out self-order tech is working for them, they’re exploring even more ways to cut down on human labor and incorporate more digital advances. The next step? The smart kitchen.
There are two current avenues for smart kitchen technology. The first is home kitchen appliances, like automatic pan stirrers, the Meater, or a fridge with a mind of its own. The second is via restaurant systems, like the one being tested by South Korean fried chicken chain Bb.q Chicken (it’s not barbecue—the ‘Bb.q’ stand for ‘best of the best quality’).
According to Restaurant Business, the Bb.q Smart Kitchen (BSK) will allow customers to order their meal at a kiosk in-store or ahead of time online and then pick up their food from a locker, similar to the lockers used by Amazon at certain Whole Foods stores for grocery pickup. Essentially, this method cuts out human interaction entirely.
The BSK is being tested first at the Bb.q Chicken location in Englewood, New Jersey, but in South Korea several locations are already testing robot servers at full-service locations and a robotic fry cook (move over, Flippy!). All these technologies are being put in place for “ease of service,” Restaurant Business reports, and, as with most new solutions installed at restaurants, as a reaction to the never-ending labor shortage. Locations with BSKs would require only a few staff members to run efficiently.
Because Bb.q Chicken is a newer chain in the US, this is the ideal way to test the smart kitchens. Instead of renovating existing stores, Bb.q Chicken will see if customers are responding to the system, and if it’s successful, the business will factor that into the construction of future franchises. But if it’s a booming success, we can expect it to start slowly infiltrating the dining rooms of our other favorite brands, too, just as the self-order kiosks have. Before you know it, you’ll be able to order every meal without encountering any proof that a human was ever involved. Whether that sounds ideal or dystopian is up to you.