I’m Your Overlord, May I Take Your Order?

If you’ve ever been at an eatery and thought the server was a bit robotic, you should try San Francisco’s Mezli. The restaurant claims to be the first one to be totally automated. There are no humans in there. The restaurant serves Mediterranean grain bowls. Honestly, it is hard to decide if Mezli is a restaurant or a very sophisticated vending machine.

Then again, that makes sense. Only in science fiction do you have androids flying spaceships. In real life, the robot probably is the spaceship. Obviously, someone is still loading ingredients into the machine — some precooked — but that’s about it. Some restaurants let you order from a computer while a human makes your food and we’ve seen a few automated chefs, but nothing with this degree of mechanization.

Three humans do all the behind-the-scenes work which includes chopping and cooking components in an off-site kitchen. Once a day, the restaurant is loaded with raw materials. Based on orders, it mixes bowls and uses an oven to either finish the cooking or bring the ingredients to temperature.

The restaurant itself is pretty simple. It looks like a converted shipping container or a trailer and requires only electricity to operate. No water, gas, or even a vent hood. It can serve about 75 meals an hour with dishes ranging from lemon za’atar chicken with turmeric rice to a falafel bowl. Including customized options, the machine can create nearly 65,000 possible combinations.

Is it the wave of the future? In a way, it is a sophisticated form of the old automat. Will it be a modern-day coffee machine where the bowl doesn’t land right and the machine throws your rice on the bottom of the tray? We don’t know, but we will be more impressed when you load the machine with raw materials instead of the output of a kitchen.

Make no mistake: robot automation is coming to restaurants. We just wonder where the line is between a restaurant and a vending machine.

44 thoughts on “I’m Your Overlord, May I Take Your Order?

  1. This type of automatic “restaurant” has existed for ~40 years – in the stable for the pigs of my uncle. Three different “meals” for the different age classes each day, from up to eight components.

  2. They used to have automats, not really a different concept. The workers all behind the wall of doors with the foid. Deposit the money, andyiu can open the door and get the food. Lester Del Rey worked in one in the late thirties or forties.

    1. They work in the kitchen offsite probably in better conditions than an uninsulated tin can sweltering in the summer heat. Plus with only loading the restaurant once a day gives them an opportunity to have a side hustle and be able to sleep.

    2. The trick is to tax companies properly and redistribute that to the population, in the event that automation creates permanent structural unemployment some form of Universal Basic Income is needed, if you want the system to be stable.

        1. Why would far right billionaire funded propaganda outlet be against taxing people? I just can’t put my finger on it…

          Note though, I said “structural unemployment”; think of my suggestion as enlightened self-interest (or self preservation).

          Democracy and capitalism won’t survive over half of the population effectively being told to go off somewhere and die quietly…

          1. All you have to do is assume your answer and you can justify any stupidity.

            99% of people used to work on farms, why aren’t they all ‘structurally unemployed’ now?

            Fuck Marx, he was wrong about every single prediction he put on paper. Capitalism was supposed to eat itself by becoming unprofitable. All you have is derp about ‘late stage capitalism’ from commies.
            Just admit to yourself he was wrong and find a new political philosophy. Find one that involves self organizing systems like capitalism. Central control always devolves as power corrupts. There is a reason communism NEVER works. It isn’t ‘flawed people’. Put in the same place you would be no better than Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot.

          1. Consider the alternative, in a world where 50% of all work is automated: the voting public will elect people who are far left, or try to dismantle society.

            There is nothing wrong with gaining efficiency through automation, but to what end?

            Profit through improvement in the short term is great, but if it destroys the social contract in the long term that is bad news… for everyone, even the well off.

            I am not a luddite, I just want the benefits of technological progress to be shared, for the greater good.

      1. The US was built on a concept of distrust of government because ALL governments are corrupt, it is just the degree of corruption that varies.

        Having the government tax and “redistribute” that will mean that it will have 90% overhead and the remaining 10% is what gets “redistributed”.

        Socialism tries to put everyone on the same level, but does so by bringing down those that succeed.
        Capitalism tries to raise everyone up to the level that they are willing to work for.

        If you are lazy and want to suck at the teat of those that work, then you want Socialism.
        If you want to work and want more than the handouts from the government, then Capitalism is the best for you.

        1. Well, we had social market economy, Soziale Marktwirtschaft, it worked great until the 90s when Gerhard Schröder, a SPD politican of all things, began dismantling it. Now we lean more and more to pure capitalism and the normal peoples buying power is trough the basement and can be visited in some deep mineshaft.

          So call me when capitalism can make sure that everyone on the planet is healthy fed, has a passable roof over their head, cheap and readily avaible healthcare and enough left for having some fun.
          And don’t forget to tell me when every capitalist is interested in the well being of the planet. Folks like Nestle apparently aren’t.

      2. @Rog77 said: “The trick is to tax companies properly and redistribute that to the population…”

        Marxism. Let me guess where you were “educated” Rog77… Harvard, Berkeley?

        When you tax a company who do you think pays that tax, the company? Of course not! The consumer does. You can’t get something for nothing, and if you try eventually very bad things happen to everyone – everyone except the ruling Elites that is. Look up “hyperinflation” and learn something from history.

    3. What happened to the people that tractors put out of work? Or the people that the printing press put out of work? Surely life was better for all when we were all subsistence farmers.

  3. In the Nickelodeon Show, Sam and Kat (Jeannette McCurdy and Ariana Grande) the characters occasionally go to a restaurant named Bots. Their orders are never quite right and the robot waiter and waitress deny their feelings for each other. Art imitating life ?

  4. Neat idea, has been done a lot before, doesn’t pass the sniff test for me. From an ownership/profit standpoint, I’d like to know what the 3 people are doing the rest of the time? Does it take them all day to do the prep because if so, I don’t see any benefit (ok, marketing) to *not having them in the box, doing all that. When the mechanism (details please) breaks, and it must, all the time, how long is food service down for before someone comes and fixes it? Knowing how razor-thin profit margins are for food service, that could wreck your profits for the week, if not more. How does this comply with food safety regulations? I’m guessing SF isn’t the place that would hand-wave that away. Also, reading the linked article, they invested $3M and several years. Basically what you are getting is a higher-end airline food tray reheated by a microwave (ok, maybe a real oven) in a shipping container. You gotta sling a lot of $6.99 trays to not just recoup initial costs, but keep up with ongoing expenses and pay your admittedly lean staff.

    1. I’m envisioning one of the 3 stays on site all day, while the other 2 go back to their real jobs (probably working for Google or Meta). Heck, even the person who stays on site could have a day job, they just work remotely from the food truck area. That would allow them to respond to “human required” issues in a timely manner. Think of this as more of a passion side project that they hope gains traction, rather than a full-time job, but that’s all just speculation.

      I notice on their menu they don’t state how much the “build your own” options cost; I bet they’re a fair bit more than $6.99, and the machine doesn’t care if it’s making a standard or custom offering.

      I don’t know about food safety, but in my opinion this is just a large vending machine. So assuming that the off-site kitchen passes inspection, I’d expect this to be treated like the machine it is in that regard.

      This type of thing isn’t my cup of tea, and I don’t think they’ll be making any profit anytime soon. But if they see value in it, good on them. Not how I’d spend $3M, but whatever.

    2. Agreed, so I bet this first installation is a demo for their tech, which they hope to sell or franchise for real money. I’m sure there are still plenty of hungry VC’s pardon the pun.

    3. The actual kitchen that the prep is done likely has all sorts of other work, could be catering or a real restaurant. So the prep for this is likely just slung onto an existing kitchen staff for minimal extra cost. The cost of the machine is likely a pet project for some rich person or a tax loophole. Same reason we have a ton of empty malls, cheaper to build a useless mall and avoid capital gains tax.

      1. “Same reason we have a ton of empty malls, cheaper to build a useless mall and avoid capital gains tax.”

        And here we thought it was being left behind by the online shopping movement. Who knew all along it was tax avoidance?

  5. For now (until they can prove it actually works) the 3 employees are likely inside the box making bowls of food. Remember the self-driving convenience store/snack shack from a couple months back? They just put a driver in front and said “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”…

    1. Why in the world did it take almost 24 hours for my comment to be approved? Seriously, can someone who works for hackaday explain please? What’s the point of commenting if by the time my comment’s posted, nobody’s still reading it?

  6. This is a vending machine, and it’s not even the only vending machine of this class in town. Yo-Kai Express (https://www.yokaiexpress.com/) machines serve Ramen, Udon, and Pho at several locations around the Bay Area, as well in a few other places. There _might_ be some differences in assembly – I am honestly not sure as to how much of the individual product is assembled in-machine, but both of these machines are only a couple steps above the almost-entirely-retired Japanese hot food vending machines that used to litter the country.

    I do look forward to finding out how well the machines maintain internal cleanliness over time. Moving robot surfaces and food products are a fraught combination.

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