November 24, 2018


Japanese restaurants embrace robots as labor crunch bites (WATARU SUZUKI and JADA NAGUMO, 11/24/18, Nikkei)

At lunchtime, the Sushiro restaurant near Tokyo's Ogikubo train station is packed with families, couples and business people, but one thing is missing: staff.

Instead of receptionists, diners use a touch panel to find a table. At their seats, they navigate a tablet to order from a menu spanning some 130 items including sushi, ramen noodles, fried chicken and hot coffee. The dishes are delivered directly to the table via a conveyor belt. A self-serving register awaits them on their way out.

Staff can be found inside the kitchen, where they tirelessly churn out as many as 1,500 dishes per hour. But instead of skilled sushi chefs, many are young foreign part-time workers who have never eaten sushi in their home countries. Their lack of experience is complemented by a dazzling array of machines that mold rice, boil noodles and tell humans what to make next. Using big data, Sushiro's system predicts how many customers will come in the next 15 minutes and what they will order.

For decades, conveyor belt sushi chains have embraced robots to deal with high fish prices. Now, as rising part-time wages and sluggish consumer demand cut deep into margins of restaurants operators, they are emerging as a role model for Japan's $213 billion restaurant industry. Chains serving tempura, beef bowls and other Japanese cuisines are racing to replace humans with machines.

Posted by at November 24, 2018 7:26 AM