Robots are among us. And they’re not just for the back of the house anymore. Automation can enhance food safety, efficiency and consistency and allows guests to easily customize meals. Here are three automation innovations from the NRA Show:
Speeds up sushi-making
Suzumo International has found a way to literally bring fresh sushi to the masses. The traditional process for making maki or hand rolls and nigiri is labor-intensive and time consuming, but the Japanese company changes that, says Simon Kim, a representative for the company’s Canadian distributor. One robot makes 3,600 pieces of nigiri an hour; another makes 1,800. The company also offers an automated roll machine, roll cutter, rice sheet maker and sushi rice mixer.
Is automation in the kitchen the future of foodservice? Kitchen equipment manufacturers Middleby Corp. and Pitco think so. They’ve teamed up with Rethink Robotics to create foodservice’s first automated “employee,” which they showed off at this year’s NRA Show. The robotic “employee” can cook a batch of French fries as easily and quickly as any line cook. Why companies are thinking about “hiring” the robot: Wage issues, liability costs and turnover, says Middleby engineer Randy Burt. What does that mean for the average restaurant? $30,000 for 35,500 hours of constant repeatability and a more than five-year life span.
Meet Sally, a vending-machine-style robot that allows guests to customize salads in less space than a salad bar. The counter-top model contains ingredients for 50 salads in a refrigerated compartment. Guests select their preferred ingredients and the salad drops into a bowl, similar to a drink or ice cream machine. The benefits? Operators can offer hundreds of salads vs. four or five without risk of cross-contamination. “Millennials love customizable food,” says Casabots CEO Deepak Sekar. “Robots have been used for making food for the last 20 years in big factories,” he says. “We’ve taken the huge robots and made them smaller in size so every restaurant can have one.”