Spyce Kitchen: The Future of Fast Casual?

Michaela Santillo

MIT Engineers, a French Chef, and the hunger for success: the three key ingredients for the new robotic restaurant Spyce. Biting into the first morsel of my machine-made bowl at Spyce in Boston’s bustling Downtown Crossing, I could not feel further from my species’ roots as a hunter-gatherer—and I love it.

Contrary to what the image of a “robotic restaurant” may conjure, Spyce employs a number of real, human workers. Smiling and welcoming, the garde expedites the process by ushering customers in and helps with the orders. Beyond simply ensuring that the process goes along smoothly, they’re there to answer any questions about the concept, the process, and the product. It turns what could been an overwhelming and stressful process into a relaxed and well-informed one. Especially when contrasted with the pressured on-the-spot ordering at most fast-casual restaurants, this efficient process offers the customers a more streamlined experience.  

Though humans are used for ingredient portioning and garnishing, everything in between is completely automated. The robotic kitchen includes seven cooking woks, five hoppers, and a runner. According to the restaurant, their robotic kitchen is able to serve up to 150 meals every hour. This rapid speed speed, however, doesn’t take away from the experience of the meal.The involvement of MIT Engineer’s minds is clear in the exact timing of the process; the bowls are cooked just the right amount for the ingredients to mingle without blending into a monotonous mash.

Spyce celebrates food as a source of nourishment as well as creativity. Thanks to of Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, the bowls are thoughtfully crafted. What a place like Spyce has the ability to do thanks to its incredibly efficiency is refocus labor costs into sourcing quality ingredients, allowing each bowl to taste of its own distinct terroir, be it Latin-American, Moroccan, or Asian.

In our hyper individualized culture— where personalization is the norm—these customizable bowls fit right in.  Throughout the ordering experience, the customer is offered a multitude of customizable options including vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Still, it’s hard to see your food be prepared by a robot and not feel a tinge of dread. Food is, after all, a cornerstone of what makes us human. Our ability to elevate our food using complex techniques and combinations of ingredients is a facet of our rationality – what happens when all of that is being done faster, better, and cheaper, by machines. No matter what you may think, these bowls aren’t “made with love”. They’re made with cold, hard steel in practice and cold, hard cash in mind.

At the core of the company is the desire to provide, good-tasting, nutritious meals at affordable prices. Boston, with its student population of 150,000, seems like the perfect place to pilot this type of model. Due to the everpresent rapid pace of life in the city, fast-casual dining has taken off; automated machines taking over the process may not be the dangerous leap forward it might seem. Rather, it could be that in terms of ameliorating the product for the consumer and the profits for the producer, this is the logical next step. Simply put, to eat a meal with Daniel Boulud’s name behind it at the price of $7.50 would not be possible without these Faustian robo-cooks. Still, despite all my doubts, the bowl tasted great. So while there’s no way to tell what the future holds, I can only hope it tastes something like what Spyce has cooked up.

Spyce Kitchen, 241 Washington St, Boston, MA 02201