BusinessTechnologyThe automat: an unlikely 19th-century restaurant technology rising Post-COVID

October 30, 2020by Jerry Chavez0

It goes without saying, the restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit by COVID – as well as one that has seen more technological innovation than perhaps any other. From integrated 3rd Party Delivery, to Ghost Kitchens, to QR-Code enabled online menus, it stands to reason that your favorite restaurants won’t ever look or work the quite same.

Restaurants are contending with the following challenges: cash-strapped budgets, limited seating, and limited hours of operation. But most importantly, keeping themselves, their staff, and their customers as safe as humanly possible. Not only would a COVID outbreak be terrible, but could also temporarily shutter their operation. As a result, ensuring customer safety through sanitation has become a top priority.

Enter the automat, an unlikely hero in help restaurants to survive and thrive Post-COVID. Originating in Berlin, Germany in 1895, the automat was designed for fast food restaurants. The automat arrived to the United States in 1902, in Philadelphia, and the original models took only nickels as currency. New York City saw its first automat in 1912, and from there it gradually became a part of popular culture throughout the Northeast.

Coincidentally, automats were all the rage during the Spanish Flu Outbreak, which lasted from 1918 to 1920. In fact, according to an article by Rebecca Spang in online publication Lit Hub, “Why Did So Many Restaurants Stay Open During the 1918 Pandemic?” the automat was one of several technologies that can be credited for helping restaurants to keep their light on.

As with countless other technologies that slowly phased out of use — from the cassette tape to the calculator — the automat fell out of fashion due to a few factors. First, the rising popularity of Fast Food restaurants like McDonald’s threatened the automat, as customers preferred the hospitality of being served over the counter and with more payment flexibility. Secondly, rising inflation in the 1970s led to increased food prices. As automats could only take coins, and not yet cash or cards, this made the automat much less convenient. By 1991, New York automat institution Horn & Hardart shut down their stores and converted to Burger Kings.

And yet, the automat may rise again. By leveraging modern technologies such as self-service kiosks, mobile and online ordering, and contactless payments. The automat is being resurrected to create the system. Customers will approach a kiosk, scan a QR code, and place their order. Once an order is complete the customer will receive another QR code via text message, which they will use to scan at the locker to receive their food. Lockers will open automatically, self-sanitize between use, and glow blue or orange and be hot or cold depending on the contents of the locker.

Said Stratis Morfogen, Founder of Brooklyn Dumpling Shop:

“The automat was single-handedly the greatest fast-food distribution equipment ever designed. The technology we’re bringing to Brooklyn Dumpling Shop is unlike anything seen before, which will allow us to create an order from a customer’s cell phone, to our touchless ordering kiosk, right to our lockers to bring quick serve restaurants into the 21st century,”


Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s unique and groundbreaking customer experience was described in a recent press release by TRAY:

“Customers can order ahead or scan a QR code at the TRAY kiosk, enabling them to order directly from their mobile phone. Their order will be sent to TRAY’s glove-enabled kitchen display system. Customers will receive real time order status updates via digital menu boards and text messages. Once the order is complete, it will be placed into a self-sanitizing, temperature sensitive food locker. Customers will receive a QR Code that will unlock the appropriate locker.”

While Brooklyn Dumpling Shop will be the first of its kind to offer a truly Zero Human Interaction Automat, it is likely that many other restaurants will follow suit. To learn more about TRAY’s partnership with Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, read this press release on BusinessWire: Introducing TRAY DineSafe: Contactless Software Suite for Post-COVID Dining Launches with New York Restaurant Franchise

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