A Colombian fast food chain is automating its restaurants at a time when the coronavirus pandemic hits the gastronomic sector worldwide.
The MUY chain has more than 30 restaurants in Bogotá and four in Mexico City. At the beginning of August, he opened his first “contactless” store in a commercial district of Bogotá, where many restaurants have been forced to close due to the ban on receiving customers inside.
The store is filled with colorful touch screens where customers can place their orders. Another screen alerts people when their order is ready and indicates the cubicle where they can pick it up in a bag. Payment is also automated and the machines accept both cash and credit cards.
“It’s very practical,” said Felipe Sánchez, a publicist who says he buys food at the restaurant twice a week. “They continue to guarantee quality and flavor but with the new practices that must be followed these days.”
MUY serves dishes based on freshly cooked rice that include proteins such as roast chicken and shredded meat, vegetables and other typical accompaniments such as plantains, beans, chorizo and chicharrón.
The company has used touchscreens since it was founded in 2018 and says it had been planning the transition to contactless service since before the pandemic emerged.
“Technology makes the service faster and also more personalized”, expressed the executive director of the firm José Guillermo Calderón. He explained that computers store the information of what customers order and that when they return, the screen shows them the dishes they have already ordered.
The machines also count how much of each ingredient is being ordered, allowing the company to avoid buying more than it needs.
“A traditional lunch restaurant can waste between 20 and 30% of its food,” said Calderón. “We waste 2.7%. It is still quite a lot, but less than the rest of the industry ”.
Automated restaurants emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when businessmen in Germany and the United States opened places that sold meals with machines, where you paid with coins. Those in the United States began to disappear in the 1980s.
But there are still some in the Netherlands and in 2018 it opened a similar one, without physical contact between people, in Buenos Aires.
More recent attempts to impose automated restaurants with touch screens have met with limited success in the United States. Spyce, a Boston restaurant where meal preparation was automated, closed in November to make changes to its menu and has not reopened. Eatsa, which opened in San Francisco in 2015, changed its name and now focuses on developing software.
VERY tries to adapt to the pandemic by offering the customer the opportunity to order from home through an app. She’s also hiring kitchen staff, so she doesn’t have to invest so much in machinery. Calderón said the chain generates a million dollars a month in its more than 30 stores and that sales are reaching pre-pandemic levels. The menu includes dishes for only $ 2.20.
“It’s super cheap,” said Dayana Briceño, a beautician who eats lunch there. “And it allows me to get back to work quickly.”
VERY wants to present itself as a biosecure site. An employee greets the customer at the entrance and offers him a disinfectant gel. Screens, on the other hand, are periodically cleaned.