- October 10, 2021
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Every single day, we’re surrounded by automation. Some we take for granted like self-serve at supermarkets or online banking. But as the pandemic continues, some in the hospitality industry have been adapting their businesses and are looking to automation to create a contactless experience.
RC Coffee Robo Café popped up in Toronto’s Kensington Market this past July in one of the neighbourhood’s vacant storefronts. With bright blue and yellow signage welcoming customers to step on up, guests can order premium café-style drinks — from espresso to chai lattes — from the robot barista using the kiosk’s intuitive touchscreen display or via RC Coffee’s mobile app.
“It makes a phenomenal calibre of coffee served to perfection every time,” general manager Brad Ford said, explaining that when most think of an automated coffee concept, they might think of a vending machine at a hockey rink or a laundromat. “Development on this concept started three years ago and then last September, after nearly five years of research and development, we opened our first retail location in Yorkville.” Here, customers can watch the inner workings through a clear, Plexiglas window, giving full access to the robot arm at work dosing and tamping the coffee, in a quick, Instagrammable moment.
“I think that’s part of the reason COVID has accelerated technology by possibly five to 10 years in terms of adoption of the technology. What we’re seeing with robotics is it can really speed up and smooth out operations, and help provide a truly contactless pickup experience,” said Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing.
A recent survey by Restaurants Canada found that 80 per cent of food service operators were finding it difficult to hire kitchen staff and 67 per cent were having trouble filling serving, bartending and hosting positions. According to reporting done by website The Conversation, restaurant employees across Canada are fleeing the industry. “I think this could be the whole redistribution of the workforce and, in my opinion, stand-alone solutions (with automation) make a lot of sense,” McArthur said. She points to how many Starbucks have closed this year alone and says this will be part of our new normal.
Ford says that the mission of RC Coffee has never been to replace barista jobs, but to “offer an alternative to the traditional café” with something fun and interactive in a post-pandemic world. But Fraser Greenberg, owner of Milky’s Coffee at Dundas and Bathurst streets, believes you can offer something fun and interactive for your customers and it doesn’t have to be automated. Their café, which is “just larger than a king-sized bed,” relies on a few things to keep it going: good coffee and building community.
Greenberg explained, “ There’s an atmosphere and ambience that you create and a lot of those things don’t require a lot of space to achieve. They require good people.”
In fact, smaller footprint shops can often churn out big results and build customer loyalty. “It’s a lot harder to have a small space, of course,” Greenberg added. “But at the end of the day, we want people to stay and to hang out with us, we want to talk to them and get to know them and their lives. We’re really encouraged by that sort of community … if we had a robot, it just wouldn’t feel the same.”
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