Chicago restaurants showcase future of dining
by Doug Rapp
Self-ordering kiosks with food appearing in a cubby minutes later. Robots working as concierges and assisting restaurant servers.
All of these are happening in Chicago in what might be a version of dining in the future.
Hotel EMC2, which bills itself as “at the intersection of art and science,” has added two robot concierges. Named Leo and Cleo, the robots deliver amenities for guests who book the Bot Experience Package through March 2020, according to website Travel Pulse.
The X Pot, a Chinese hot pot restaurant, plans to use robots at its South Loop location opening this summer, according to the Chicago Tribune. Owner David Zhao told the Tribune the robots will move around similarly to Roombas, delivering food to tables and taking away empty dishes.
Wow Bao, a fast Asian street food eatery, has two fully automated locations, plus a semi-automated one in Streeterville. At the 200 N. Michigan Ave. spot, customers order from a kiosk and their food is placed in a cubby, limiting human interaction.
“It makes the ordering process a lot faster and more accurate because you’re entering your own order,” said Christine Reznicek, Wow Bao’s marketing manager.
The restaurant usually has two to three employees preparing the food, according to Reznicek, and a concierge up front during peak times to assist customers.
Reznicek said it’s a feature the company wants to move forward with.
“We like the excitement that it encourages,” she said. “It definitely is a draw for traffic coming in.”
The reception has been almost uniformly positive, Reznicek said.
“It’s been great. Once everyone gets used to the order flow, they like it. We’re pretty big with tourists. They hear about it and want to come check out the animations.”
She was referring to the dancing bitmojis that traipse across the cubbies’ thin screens at the 200 N. Michigan location.
KDM Engineering employee Mani Appalamcen, who was picking up lunch, said he “loves” the vegan options at Wow Bao.
“I like the way your order appears on the monitor and then in the cubby,” he said. “That’s cool and it’s convenient.”
Cleanna Smith, a supervisor at the 200 N. Michigan location, said the technology rarely has problems but occasionally a guest needs help navigating the ordering stations.
“I just like that we have all this technology that’s a new experience for people,” Smith said.