Restaurant operations are more efficient than ever, and technological advancements are expected to continue. But for some chefs, tomorrow isn’t soon enough. Some weighed in on their fantasy tech fixes, from virtual waiters to a silent ticket printer. Experts deem whether these fantasies can ever be reality.
The Virtual Elf
Megan Romano, chef-owner at Chocolate and Spice Bakery, Las Vegas
Big Tech Dream: “The more beautifully we wrap things, the faster we sell them. But it is amazing how long that takes,” says Romano. She’d love a virtual elf “to package, label and tie pretty bows” instead of hiring six people to help year-round, plus an extra two during the holidays.
Tech Reality Check: Tim Lynch, Ph.D. and CEO of Psychsoftpc, a Quincy, Massachusetts, computer and gaming firm, says Romano better keep tying those bows. While robots can automate many tasks, it will likely be decades before a robot can handle delicate assembly work.
The Self-Cleaning Bathroom
Michael Vignola, corporate executive chef at Strip House, New York and Las Vegas
Big Tech Dream: “I am just trying to think of the things that make the drudgery go away,” Vignola says of his technology wish list, which includes self-drying floors to prevent slip and falls, and a self-cleaning bathroom that could sanitize in one fell swoop.
Tech Reality Check: Lynch says these could happen. Much like heated driveways that melt ice in cold climates, embedded heating coils may dry a freshly washed floor. In-ceiling sprayers could sanitize entire bathrooms from the top down, but fixtures and decor would have to withstand the process. An employee would still need to wipe down afterwards, much like a self-cleaning oven still requires a post-cycle cleanup.
The Auto Mortar and Pestle
David Gilbert, chef-owner at Tuk Tuk Tap Room, San Antonio
Big Tech Dream: Because he makes Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine, Gilbert spends most of his prep time with a mortar and pestle. Nothing else works like the time-honored tool, which smashes herbs while a food processor cuts. Lemongrass gets stringy if cut, rather than smashed. Gilbert pines for an automated, time-saving option.
Tech Reality Check: The demand for fine motor skills makes a delicate task like this out of reach for current robotics, but Lynch sees it being possible within the decade. “The field of robotics is advancing rapidly,” he says.
The Allergy Alert
Kris Koch, executive chef at The SIX15 Room, Minneapolis
Big Tech Dream: As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. Koch’s vision? “A mini zip drive in a bracelet that a guest could wave over the computer and automatically generate the list of that person’s specific needs.”
Tech Reality Check: Similar products are in the works. Toronto’s TellSpec Inc. used crowdfunding to finance the development of a handheld scanner, which analyzes and identifies allergens in foods. The company expects its product to launch next year.
The Central Vent System
Big Tech Dream: Sawyer hates the costly process and limitations of selecting equipment for a new kitchen. An interchangeable ventless deep fryer or a hoodless oven would make his kitchens as dynamic as his menus.
Tech Reality Check: Inspection codes and fire safety are as much a barrier to Sawyer’s dream as the technology. But Brian Witlin, chief operating officer of Yummly, a California food technology company, says floor-based ventilation systems with plug-in capabilities are a realistic possibility. Like home central vacuum systems, the vents would be installed during construction with sockets. Then, the appliances could move from corner to corner or to another kitchen without more retrofitting.
Margaret Littman is a Nashville-based food and business writer.