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A flip through these pages tells us the future is now


Strolling down a San Francisco city street on vacation a couple of years ago, husband Doug and I happened upon a coffee shop. While coffee cafes are ubiquitous in cities worldwide, this one was a little different, and that drew us inside the vestibule-like area.

Behind Plexiglas was a robotic arm, making and serving the made-to-order drinks. Everything was automated, from ordering and payment to serving the drink, which included the robotic arm slowly pulling the full cup out from under the espresso machine and placing it on a silver disc in front of the patron. Then, the disc lowered 6 inches and a small door opened, allowing the customer to grab their caffeine.

Call me Grandma Jones on a rotary phone, but the whole display made me a little somber. The vestibule was an antiseptic white, and the patrons waited uneasily for their orders. It was like being in an elevator, where none of the riders talk or look at each other. And if there was a human behind the scenes there, I didn’t see one.

Sure, it delivered our afternoon jolt of energy, but it did so without, well, energy, and dare I say, without soul.

I couldn’t help but think of our cold encounter when I was reading Franchise Times Restaurant Editor Nick Upton’s cover story on the Cali Group, the company behind Miso Robotics and its robotic kitchen assistant, the warm-heartedly named Flippy. They have already employed Flippy in some of their own CaliBurger restaurants, but the goal is after testing, fine-tuning, more testing and more fine-tuning, to bring it to the masses.

Flippy, of course, can flip burgers, but it can also drop baskets of tator tots, chicken wings and all of the other deep-fried goodies quick-serve restaurants have to offer. As Nick writes, Flippy is “currently pumping out basket after basket of chicken and fries at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles …”

What made me take a second look was what Cali Group founder and CEO John Miller said: “Our big focus now is how much we can reduce on the income statement by reducing turnover. The cost of running a restaurant right now is driven much more by turnover than wages.”

Here’s the deal: Miller asserts employees will experience a more enjoyable workplace if they aren’t at the fryer and grill. Someone will have to make sure Flippy is stocked, and others will focus on “customer engagement.” Which was what my coffee experience lacked.

And, adds Miso co-founder and head of mechanical engineering, Rob Anderson, it will “open up the opportunities for career growth in restaurants.”

Mary Jo Larson

Mary Jo Larson

Reach Mary Jo at 612-767-3208
or mlarson@franchisetimes.com

Technology was the theme of the cover story, but it is also laced throughout the rest of the issue. In three one-on-one CEO interviews, each mentioned technology as an important part of future initiatives: Kate Jaspon, Dunkin’ Brands CFO, on revising their online ordering app to make it more customer friendly; Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor, on digital ordering and continuing to reduce delivery times; and Sweetberry Bowls CEO Desi Saran on using artificial intelligence to “enhance the customer experience.”

And while technology in so many ways helps franchises make the customer experience better, there is always the reality things may be moving too fast. I won’t give anything away, but visit FT Senior Editor Beth Ewen’s CFR column on page 58 to find out why.

There’s so much diverse content in this issue, including the likes of cannabis, Sudoku, vegan milkshakes, and yes, even Cameron Diaz.

And while technology will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in everything we do, I also pray the hands flipping these pages are attached to real humans who can appreciate all this great content.

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