At This Tokyo Restaurant, Only One Staff Person Is Visible

The restaurant combines food delivery via conveyor belts with tablets containing menu options. The staff person is there merely to collect customers' payments, which are automatically tallied when empty plates are sent down a chute.

What's the Latest Development?

A Tokyo restaurant is combining automation and dining in a whole new way by eliminating the need for waiters entirely. Customers can select from a variety of dishes passing by on a conveyor belt, but they can also order special items using a touchscreen installed above their table. Those dishes are served to them via a separate conveyor belt within a couple of minutes. For each dish they finish, they dispose of their empty plate by dropping it into a chute located next to the table. Software calculates their bill based on the number of plates, and when they are finished, they simply go to the counter, where the cashier -- the one visible human being in the restaurant -- takes their money.

What's the Big Idea?

Conveyor belt delivery of food items has been used in Japanese restaurants for years, and digital menus have become increasingly popular there and elsewhere. Not only does this restaurant combine the two, it also monitors how many people are eating and what they're eating so that the people in the kitchen -- yes, there are real people doing the cooking, although they're invisible from the floor -- know what new dishes to make. To encourage more eating, the menu displays a game after every fifth plate goes down the chute. Winners receive a small toy as a prize.

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