Exploring New “Spyces”: Robots in Restaurants
We live in the midst of a remarkable turning point in our technological history. From mass production to simple everyday tasks, automation is now considered the norm in many industries and for everyday consumers. Four Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students — Michael Farid, Kale Rogers, Brady Knight, and Luke Schlueter — had exactly this in mind when they created the Spyce restaurant concept, complete with robots that cook and clean.
The original idea for a robotic chef stemmed from a pipe dream in a fraternity basement, as these MIT student-athletes joked about how a robot that could prepare meals and clean up for them would make it that much easier to balance classes, water-polo practice, and a healthy meal schedule. With little resources or time to cook on their own, they would often make bland meals at home or turn to expensive take-out — proving problematic for their wallets and their health.
This feeling is familiar for many students. According to the Boston Globe, 15% of Boston college students said they had lost weight because they didn’t have enough food, 25% said they had been hungry but didn’t eat because they didn’t have enough money, and 34% said they worried whether their food would run out before they earned enough money to buy more.
With this in mind, the four bright students started contemplating a futuristic alternative to meal prep. From a fraternity basement to a fully-functioning, public dining establishment, the grand idea manifested in just two years.
Opening its doors this May, “Spyce,” the first robotic restaurant, settled in downtown Boston amongst the popular “bowl-style” dining concepts that have been taking the fast-casual scene by storm. sweetgreen, Dig Inn, Cava Grill, and honeygrow/minigrow locations are popping up everywhere (for good reason – they’re delicious!). Spyce’s robot chef, however, makes it truly unique.
Offering flavors from around the world, Spyce’s menu is vibrant and the options plentiful. Each bowl has ample vegetables, and you can opt into vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free options. You view your options and build your bowl at Spyce’s digital ordering screens, which streamlines the experience and makes it easy to order with no human interaction. The LCD display on the robotic wok that cooks your meal is labeled with a customer’s name, which allows you to see bowls being made in real time. A lovely sticker prints out with the guest’s name after completion — the perfect solution to bringing leftovers back to a disheveled office or dorm refrigerator.
Each meal is designed to be completed in 3 minutes or less with a starting price of $7.50. From the cooking wok to the bowl, the meal is untouched by human hands, which ensures each portion is accurate and consistent (and a plus for cleanliness, too). A human pops up in the kitchen only when the garde manger garnishes the bowl at the end.
The Spyce boys partnered with Chef Daniel Boulud to blend efficiency and taste. Boulud designed each meal on the menu with care and purpose, and the ingredients are unique and interesting. Indulge in a Lebanese bowl with roasted chicken and lentils, a variety of vegetables, tahini and herbed yogurt. Enjoy an indian-inspired option with tamarind chutney, roasted chicken, potatoes, and other vegetables in a Tikka Masala sauce topped with puffed rice for a crunchy texture. Each option on the menu can be fully customized.
After opening in May, Spyce has already made a remarkable reputation for itself online:
“. . .when we arrived on a Monday at noon the line was OUT THE DOOR,” Rob S., a local guide, wrote in his Google review. “The food was outstanding! Delicious! loved it! I will happily come back to get some more of the Thai bowl”.
Emily H. on Yelp states, “This place has a unique and fun way of preparing food. I ordered the Lebanese bowl and it was delicious! One bowl for $7.50 — I couldn’t get over the great price! I hope this place does well and that the concept can spread, changing how we prepare food!”
Spyce’s concept is truly revolutionary and seeds a much greater purpose. Imagine the impact Spyce could have on a large scale: not only is this an interesting way to change up lunch and dinner for workers and tourists, it could also potentially serve as an aid in fixing deeper societal issues. College students aren’t the only ones who suffer from lack of healthy and affordable food, and the technology could be used to help communities in need. The opportunities for this robotic concept are endless.