One Chicken Rice Please, Mr Robot
From clearing your dishes at the food court to serving up perfectly-cooked poultry, robots are now making their way out of their usual abode of factory floors and into the Singapore’s coffee shops and hawker centres. Here are four creative ways robot helpers are helping to alleviate resource and operational constraints of our hawkers and restaurant owners.
Fast and Consistent Cook-bots
Ensuring consistency is a challenge in any food business. Amidst manpower shortages, several local eateries have turned to automation to achieve culinary precision. For example, Roost, a restaurant specializing in chicken rice, uses the iKook to poach and braise its chickens. Invented by Roost’s owner, Mr. Alson Teo, the iKook’s temperature can be pre-set based on a chicken’s weight, enabling 10 chickens to be cooked to perfection in just 40 minutes. Another eatery, The Duck Master, also recently gained attention for using three electric rotisseries to produce their signature ducks which retail at an affordable price of $15 each. Despite the small size of the hawker stall, the use of the rotisseries (each of which can cook 24 ducks at a time) allow it to produce up to 400 cooked ducks a day. Did we mention that owner, Paul Boh, who watches over the oven himself, only picked up roasting about a year ago?
Catering to the Under-served
They don’t need cashiers and require very little space, so it is no wonder why vending machines are popping up at remote locations such as business parks and even school campuses. Beyond the usual snack offerings, these machines also dish out hawker delights such as claypot rice and bak chang. In fact, these ‘Chef In Box’ machines have been so popular that the operator, JR Vending, has opened up two cafes at Ang Mo Kio and Lakeside MRT stations which run entirely on vending machines.
Taking packed food in a different direction is Fastbee, a delivery service that da paos (does takeaway) lunch from your favourite hawker stall. Customers send in their orders in the morning, and Fastbee will deliver them to lockers at under-served workplaces such as Mediapolis, Science Park, and JTV CleanTech Park. Come lunch time, all customers have to do is enter their mobile numbers into dedicated storage lockers to gain access to their warm meals. This self-collection model is what makes it viable to deliver affordable packs of char kway tiao to customers in faraway locations.
Returning food trays is now more convenient with smart robots that circle about. Available at several Koufu outlets, customers just need to stand in front of one of these robots when they come by, and slot their tray into racks on the robots’ bodies. Once full, these robots, designed by local company R Factory, will automatically unload the dirty dishes they are carrying at the washing-up area before returning to pick up more. This is just one example of how technology has helped lighten the workload of cleaners. Another coffeeshop operator, Chang Cheng Group, has also installed a food waste composter machine and an automatic floor cleaning robot — ensuring its coffeeshop offers a cleaner and greener experience.
Kopitiam of the Future
Why wait to catch a glimpse of tomorrow’s hawker culture when you can pop by “FoodTastic” at Choa Chu Kang Ave 1 and “Happy Hawkers” at Tampines Street 86? Equipped with technologies ranging from self-ordering kiosks to vending machines and tray-returning robots, these coffeeshops showcase how technology can power the future of Singapore’s hawker culture. These not only reduce manpower reliance for operators, but also benefit customers. For instance, “Happy Hawkers” has unified kiosks that allows customers to both order from any of the stores and pay via a variety of methods including cash. No more queuing for food!