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Robot Servers – Gimmick or Good Idea?

Posted in Food Safety on September 1, 2018

Every once in a while a restaurant will pop up promising something new. It might be a new dish, a different style, a theme not yet seen, or something fresh in the menu. In the case of Spyce, from Boston, MA, MIT students now owners opened up the first full-service robot restaurant. Yes, you heard me right, if you want to eat at Spyce; everything is prepared and cooked by robots. There are humans helping a bit but as far as the cooking is concerned, there is no human interaction.

Time will tell if this is a novelty or the future of restaurant ownership. But we here at MakeFoodSafe.com are not concerned with novelty; we focus on food safety.

Let’s take a look at what this restaurant is offering, what people are saying about it, and shine a spotlight on the safety aspect of automated food preparation. To be honest, this could turn out to be the safest alternative to eating out. If, and that is a big “if”, it turns out to be safe at all.

Upon first glance, everything being said about Spyce and what they offer seems legit. Their website made my mouth water when I glanced at the menu. Of course, there is a limit to what a robot can repair (for now) so there are only certain items on the menu but more are in the works. Everything comes ready to eat in a bowl. Take a second and check out their menu and pictures. Those dishes look delicious.

Transparency seems to be a big factor for this team. Even though the technical side of how things work is not discussed, every other aspect of the process is.

Food Preparation

The food is prepared by humans. Cutting, chopping, and measuring each individual ingredient seems to still need a personal touch. Workers on-site take care of the details and load everything into containers for the robots to select.

Cooking

Done solely in a “wok” type container. This container is temperature controlled and heated with electricity to ensure for best costs. Each ingredient is measured out equally every time for consistency and flavor. Once the meal is cooked, contents are emptied into a bowl and garnished.

The Finishing Touches

A Garde Manager (garnish employee) is there to make things run smoothly, help answer any questions, and put the finishing touches on your meal. There are additional toppings to choose from and they know how to help you make the best decisions.

Sadly, I do not live near Boston, or I would check this place out myself. So, the next best thing will do is look at some online reviews. Spyce has been in business for a few months now so there should be a multitude of reviews right? Once again, I will put the knowledge before you but you are responsible for learning.

Yelp.com is usually the first place people go to when looking for reviews from people who have been someplace before. Remember, as with any online review, to find ones that give an honest and unbiased opinion.

After scrolling through 40-50 reviews, on thing is clear: this place is not going anywhere. Everyone raved about the food, the exciting concept, and the prices. I found nothing to indicate unsanitary conditions or issues after people ate there. Overall, everyone left great feedback and said they would return.

Is it Safe?

Here is the part I took the most time researching. I wanted to find holes in Spyce’s process, handling, or preparation of their food. I still believe there is a possibility for foodborne illnesses here, but from the outside looking in it seems pretty safe.

When it comes to checking out a new place, I see nothing wrong with scrutinizing the kitchen first. Most issues begin in the kitchen where the food is prepared and cooked. And taking away the human factor at Spyce, there is less chance of contamination. Notice I said less of a chance, not a zero chance.

Humans still prepare the food for the robots to cook. They still are the ones responsible for cleaning during the day and the end of the night. I did run across this statement in the FAQ (linked here) concerning the sanitary expectations:

“That is one of the best parts. The robotic kitchen is certified by the NSF (National Sanitation Foundation), and cleans and sanitizes the cooking woks after every meal. It’s programmed to monitor cooking, refrigeration and water temperatures, and all components in the refrigerator that touch food are removed and cleaned by our crew regularly.”

It would seem the owners thought of everything. And why not? Embarking on a new restaurant project involving robotics to do the cooking is exciting enough. Taking into consideration food safety takes this concept to a whole new level.

Another concern for patrons is food allergies. In a place where the food is collected and prepared mostly by robots it would seem more than likely cross-contamination will occur. Again, Spyce addresses these concerns by stating there is a very real possibility for milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, and any other ingredient to be mixed. There is a lone wok dedicated to gluten-free meals but so far the possibility of a nut allergy is real. This will keep certain people away for obvious reasons.

So far, there is nothing 100% safe when it comes to food preparation – yet. I am hopeful our community here at makefoodsafe.com and other awareness groups can and will see a day when we do not have to be afraid of what we eat. Until that time, we will stay diligent. All of us. Knowledge is the key.

It is always fun to try new restaurants and the wares they offer. If you’re in the Boston area and give this a try, let us know what you thought.

As long as the robots are not thinking for us and just making our meals, I believe we will be good. Let’s just hope the humans in the building keep them well-sanitized.