Everyday UX – Have a machine-made burger

How good would a burger be if it’s made by a machine?

The other day, my coworker sent me this restaurant website. It claimed that it automated the entire process of burger making. The automated food making process is frequently seen in factories, you can easily find a number of such videos on YouTube. But, automate it in front of the consumers? Never heard of. The concept immediately piqued my interest.

Look back at my experience, I would give it a 4-star rating out of 5.

The entire experience was refreshing. The burger was pretty good, and that’s the most important piece to get me back. The automation technology could definitely be improved.

Here’s how it went.

Set the expectation

I navigated to the restaurant’s website creator.rest.

The homepage (from website)

It looked clean and modern. It told a pretty good story about the machine and burger, highlighting the machine and its precision, a perfect shot of a burger and its high quality, the ingredient breakdown, credibility with famous chefs.

The burger machine (from website)

Restaurant introduction (from website)

The listed price was good. A burger was roughly $6-7, that’s almost half of the price for non-fast food burger places elsewhere in SF. What else can I say — Let’s go now!!

By now, I’ve set my expectations:

  • The burger: it has to be tasty. Otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Automation = fewer humans: I expected to see a fully automated process and experience the high-tech dining experience.
  • Aesthetics in the restaurant: clean & modern, just like what’s illustrated on its website.

Enter the restaurant and order the burger

A waiter welcomed us, handed us print menus and asked us to order at the door.

Print menu

Definitely surprised — I was expecting to order my meal on some kiosk, because hey, isn’t it easier to automate ordering than burger-making?

When asked for medium-rare meat patty, the waiter apologized and said the machine could only cook it well done. That’s another surprise moment.

The price was as advertised. It was about $12 after you add fries and a drink. Pretty good price for lunch in San Francisco.

While waiting for the burger…

We had about 10 mins to kill.

Look around, it was very obvious that the restaurant paid great attention to space design. It was modern with a minimalist style — lots of white walls, long wood tables, indoor plants. It made me think of Blue Bottle Coffee and Apple Store.

And the machine, of course. It was beautiful, and watching the process was absolutely fun.

It broke a burger to a number of parts It breaks down the burger to be:

  • The bun
  • Sauce options
  • Tomato slices
  • Onion slices
  • Lettuce
  • Patty
  • Cheese

The smartest part to me was how they handled the top and bottom buns — A bun got cut into two parts and put into two sides of a lunch box. After all the ingredients were put in place, the lunch box was passed to the staff, and he closed it to form the complete burger.

Cut bun

Split buns fell into a lunch box

Here’s the catch: the machine stuck twice while we were waiting for our burgers: one time was a stuck bun, the other time the cheese spill flooded the assembly line.

Cheese spill

Unstuck the machine

Onion slice freely dropped on the bun and didn’t seem to be precise at all.

Sliced onion fell onto a random position

“Sorry, it gave you a lot of cheese on this”. The staff apologized— the cheese spill happened to be on my co-worker’s burger. Now it’s a true cheesy cheeseburger. Note: the cheese was not grilled.

cheesy cheeseburger

The fries I order were pre-made. It was probably made behind the scene.

The taste

I ordered an Indian flavor burger and it actually tasted very good. That made me very happy.

Overall impression

On our way back to our office, my coworker and I did a critique of this experience.

My overall experience was pretty good, with a few small surprises along the way.

  • The machine produced tasty & quality burgers at a reasonable price point. This is the most important reason to attract me to come back.
  • The restaurant has a beautiful setup — the environment, the machine, the well-designed eco-friendly lunch box materials, etc.

The automation process can definitely improve:

  • Lots of humans involved, contrary to my initial “humanless” expectation: two waiters, quite a few people in the back scene running around, people who unstuck the machine, people who form the burger…
  • The error rate seemed high: I wonder how often the machine gets stuck, given the fact that the machine got stuck twice in less than 10 minutes — human may actually be more efficient with all that time spent to solve machine problems
  • Not precise: I doubt the machine was designed to be very precise on where tomato and onion slices fell — it looked pretty random.
  • A smart workaround: Letting humans finish the last step to form a complete burger was smart, it’s hard to imagine a machine to do it without spilling

My coworker tolerated the machine for giving him too much cheese. “If it were a human, I would be angry. But it’s a machine, I know I can’t expect everything is perfectly center-aligned.”

That toleration signifies that we are still in the early stage of this experience. Even with surprises, we were not upset, and we have hopes that it will get better, and that gives room for the technology to further refine. As the technologies get more mature, we will tolerate less for errors we experienced that day — and that’s how things move towards a better direction.

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