Will Restaurants Flip Over Robotic Pizza-Making Machines? Some Already Are

For now, the freestanding machine, which is still in trial phase, is engineered to focus on the production of high-volume, customizable pizzas.
By RTN Staff - 10.7.2019

A working prototype of a new machine, dubbed the first intelligent, automated assembly platform for restaurants, has arrived. The machine can be installed almost anywhere, from dine-in restaurants to delivery and takeout joints where high volumes of food are needed in a short amount of time.

The technology, unveiled by Picnic (formerly, Vivid Robotics), is designed to be multi-purpose. That means, at least in theory, that the modular machine can be configured in any number of ways to produce all of kinds of dishes using any number of ingredients.

For now, the freestanding machine, which is still in trial phase, is engineered to focus on the production of high-volume, customizable pizzas. According to reports, a production version will be available early next year. The machine is controlled by a customer-facing app. Restaurant customers can customize their toppings. The system requires only one worker, whose tasks are limited to placing the pizza dough into the assembly line and replenishing the toppings. The machine does all the rest.

Last month, Centerplate, a leader in live event hospitality for more than 115 million guests each year at more than 200 prominent sports, entertainment and convention venues, used the technology during a trial run at T-Mobile Park for 12 Seattle Mariners games. Zaucer Pizza, based in Redmond, Washington, also deployed the machine at one of its science-fiction themed restaurants.

The pizzas can be made with any kind of ingredients. The quality and volume of the output is consistent, at a rate of up to 180 18” or 300 12” pizzas per hour. Of course, the automation of pizza assembly has become increasingly common. One popular chain, &Pizza, plans to place pizza-making robots in the back of vehicles. But no existing process can match the volume of the Picnic system for fresh-baked, custom-made orders.

It’s no surprise that &Pizza is one of the early adopters. The 36-location fast-casual pizza concept has been at the forefront of restaurant technology since its inception. The company recently implemented a custom order intake and processing system, for example, from Happy Cog, a full-service digital agency and app designer, that is also ahead of its time. The Kitchen Display System receives orders from the &pizza mobile app, website, and third parties such as Uber Eats, Caviar, and DoorDash without the use of third-party tablets. It is also equipped to schedule orders, understand the capacity of various &pizza shops, and capture and analyze operational metrics such as make time. The system understands the difference between promise time and start time, completion and pick up times, and separates those metrics by shop, location, time of day and region.

The pizza-making machine has a small footprint. The modular, configurable equipment makes it flexible to slip into a wide array of stationary and mobile kitchen formats. There is no need to install oversized industrial robotic arms requiring specially modified environments or retrofitting. Picnic will deliver, install and maintain the system. It can also provide custom design software solutions for operators to integrate with existing point-of-sale and ordering systems.

According to Picnic, which was founded in 2016 and is based in Seattle, the platform sets itself apart by its “culmination of unrivaled capabilities in production customization and throughput; smart back-end data and cloud analytics; and its ability to continually learn and meet the changing needs of food service operators, protect their brands and elevate customers’ overall experience with food.”

While it’s still early in the game, the initial customers for the new restaurant technology are feeling positive that their investments will pay off. “[Picnic’s] secret sauce will make our pizza production process more efficient and business more competitive,” said Aaron Roberts, Co-CEO of Zaucer Pizza. “Having Picnic’s capabilities in our kitchens makes me confident we can navigate future market dynamics and better manage our resources.”

The first live public presentation of the pizza production system is taking place today at the 2019 Smart Kitchen Summit at Seattle’s Bell Harbor International Conference Center.