Imagine a restaurant without frantic waiters and waitresses whizzing by, spilling or dropping food or getting your order wrong. Well, unsurprisingly, the Japanese have already created such a restaurant — actually, make that restaurants, in a new breed of automated food service that is booming in the tech-conscious country.
Classified as "kaiten" or translated as "revolving" in Japanese, conveyor belt-based eateries serving sushi are not exactly new, but some sushi slingers like the popular Kura restaurant chain have updated its whole culinary infrastructure by using microchip-embedded plates and table side touchscreens to expedite orders and keep food moving.
Customers can choose from covered plates of food that are already on a rotating conveyor belt next to their table, or use the their touch screens to order a specific dish, which is sent directly to unseen chefs who speedily prepare the dish and send it out via a dedicated separate conveyor belt. After eating, plates can be deposited into a slim metal chute installed on the end of the table, and for every five dirty plates, the diner has the chance to spin a virtual roulette wheel for a small prize, like a plastic toy, just for eating more. Payment is automatically recorded for each table and customers can quickly pay at the counter after the meal.
Cooking food has also gone high-tech with the addition of wasabi-dispensing and ultra-efficient rice ball machines that size each serving of rice just right with the help of microchip embedded plates. The Kura Corporation, which is already a major player in Japanese foodservice with more than 300 restaurants, also developed its own serving device called "sendo-kun," roughly translated as "Mr. Fresh."
The device is essentially a transparent dome that not only protects each plate of food from getting too cold, dirty or dried out, but also helps the company keep track of what dishes are making their merry way around the restaurant and how long they've been sitting there, ensuring maximum freshness and inventory.
The restaurant also watches its customers on monitors to see how many adults and children are dining at a particular time and how long they spend in the establishment. This information is stored and compared to past statistics to help the chain further improve upon speed, availability of dishes, pricing and quality control. The cameras even zoom in on a particular table to watch for how each plate of sushi was composed, though the customer's faces are blurred for privacy.