The Atlantic
Iron Chefs Image Credit: The Atlantic
Iron Chefs Image Credit: The Atlantic

Iron Chefs

How automation is transforming the restaurant industry.

Alana Semuels

VISITORS TO HENN-NA , a restaurant outside Naga-saki, Japan, are greeted by a peculiar sight: their food being prepared by a row of humanoid robots that bear a passing resemblance to the Terminator. The ffhead chef,” in congruously named Andrew, specializes in okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake. Using his two long arms, he stirs batter in a metal bowl, then pours it onto a hot grill. While he waits for the batter to cook, he talks cheerily in Japanese about how much he enjoys his job. His robot colleagues, meanwhile, fry donuts, layer soft-serve ice cream into cones, and mix drinks. One made me a gin and tonic.

H.I.S., the company that runs the restaurant, as well as a nearby hotel where robots check guests into their rooms and help with their luggage, turned to automation partly out of necessity.Japan’s population is shrinking, and its economy is booming; the unemployment rate is currently an unprecedented 2.8 percent. ffUsing robots makes a lot of sense in a country like Japan, where it’s hard to ¡nd employees,” CEO Hideo Sawada told me.

Sawada speculates that 70 percent of the jobs at Japan’s hotels will be automated in the next five years. ffIt takes about a year to two years to get your money back,” he said. ffBut since you can work them 24 hours a day, and they don’t need vacation, eventually it’s more cost-e¥cient to use the robot.”

This may seem like a vision of the future best

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