Restaurant Roundup: Restaurant Automation Takes Over Subway Stations, Sidewalks

Restaurant Automation Takes Over Subway Stations

A robotic ramen vending machine is coming to Japan’s airports and train stations. Silicon Valley-based technology company Yo-Kai Express announced Friday (April 8) the launch of three autonomous ramen bowl machines in Japan: one at Haneda Airport, one in Tokyo Station and one in a parking area in Minato, Japan.

“We are very excited to bring Yo-Kai-Express to Japan, the birthplace of ramen,” Yo-Kai Express Founder and CEO Andy Lin said in a statement. “Our vision has always been to come to Japan and we are incredibly pleased with the positive reception Yo-Kai is getting from consumers and organizations. … We will continue to build on our success by extending our platform to bring other types of food innovation to Japan’s food ecosystem.”

The company has already installed its machines in 50 locations in the United States.

Around the world, restaurant formats that increasingly resemble vending machines are debuting. Take, for instance, the reemergence of the automat with quick-growing chain Brooklyn Dumpling Shop.

Read more: Food Automation Goes Mainstream as Consumers Seek out Self-Service Options

“[Consumers] want two things: They want to be in control, and they want to be in and out fast,” Stratis Morfogen, Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s founder and owner, told PYMNTS in an October interview.

He added that the automat model allows the consumer to determine “when they want to order, when they want to pick up, and how quickly they want to be in and out.”

Last month, Newark, New Jersey-based robotics company RoboBurger announced the launch of its fully autonomous, vending-machine style robotic burger chef, and robotics company Tortoise announced that it is turning its focus to providing automated mobile shops that function somewhat like roving vending machines. In January, Pizza Hut made headlines for testing a fully robotic location in Bnei Dror, Israel.

See more: Robotic Burger Machine Launches as Vending Machines Get a Digital Upgrade

Chili’s Parent Trials Sidewalk Delivery Robots

Brinker International, parent company of Chili’s Grill and Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy in addition to two virtual brands, is trying out robotic delivery not only by sky but also by walkway.

Food technology publication The Spoon reported Monday (April 4) that both the restaurant company and autonomous delivery company Serve Robotics are beginning to pilot test sidewalk delivery robots.

The news came less than a week after the company announced an expansion of its drone delivery trial in partnership with Flytrex to Texas, delivering in the city of Granbury, outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Read more: Chili Parent Brinker International Says Automation Is the ‘Heartbeat’ of Innovation

In an interview earlier this month, Brinker International Senior Vice President and Head of Innovation Wade Allen spoke with PYMNTS about the opportunity posed by different robotic delivery methods.

“I think there’s a really neat rover opportunity, and unlike drones, rovers are closer in, less than a mile,” he said. “It’s a very efficient way to deliver stuff. I’m excited about that. … I could see a day in the far distant future that maybe these couriers and these delivery vehicles are [all] truly automated, but it is a long way away.”

$42B Restaurant Relief Bill Passes in the House

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill Thursday (April 7) titled Relief for Restaurants and Other Hard Hit Small Business Act of 2022. The bill, now heading to the Senate, allocates $42 billion in relief to small restaurants and an additional $13 billion to assist other small businesses.

“This bill will deliver long-awaited aid to hundreds of thousands of restaurants and other small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic,” House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez said in a statement. “The sooner this bill is signed into law, the sooner these businesses can begin to move forward and advance our recovery.”

In 2021, Congress passed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), which set aside $28.6 billion to provide relief for restaurants impacted by the pandemic. Funds requested far exceeded the available amount.

See more: US COVID Relief Package Offers $28.6 Billion to Small Restaurants

“The impacts of the pandemic continue to be a prominent issue facing many independent restaurants,” Colleen Taylor, president of U.S. Merchant Services at American Express, told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “From new waves and variants threatening in-person business to supply chain issues, there are still many challenges that restaurant owners are having to navigate.”

Read more: Amex Says Independent Restaurants Make Digital Adaptations but Thrive on in-Person Service

Still, most restaurants are optimistic that, whether or not they will recover to pre-pandemic levels, this year’s revenues will at least surpass those of 2021. Research from PYMNTS’ March study, “Main Street Economic Health Survey: Navigating Economic Uncertainty,” created in collaboration with Melio, found that 63% of food, entertainment and accommodations businesses expect revenue gains in 2022 relative to last year.

Get the study: Main Street Economic Health Survey