Automation adds new flavors to catering biz

A robot serves tea to visitors during a tea expo in Beijing in April. [WU CHANGQING/FOR CHINA DAILY]

China’s pursuit of new quality productive forces, which are characterized by innovation, digitalization and high-end technology, is injecting new momentum into the country’s catering industry.

Evidence of this was found on a recent morning at the entrance/exit of Niujie subway station in Beijing, where a pancake vending machine busily made and served jianbing (savory pancakes). Passengers, passersby and local residents lined up to place orders using the machine’s screen and scanned the QR code to pay.

After payment was done, a pancake-making robot at the back of the vending machine automatically spread the pancake, added a fried egg, turned the pancake over, dabbed the sauce using a brush and added the seasoning. Some three minutes later, the hot pancake was packed into a bag and delivered to the consumer. The entire process is automated.

“The jianbing tastes fine, almost like the handmade ones,” said a consumer. “But there are places where the sauce is not evenly spread.”

By 11 am, the pancakes were all sold out and a staff member appeared on the scene to carry out maintenance work on the machine.

“The pancake vending machine is still in trial operations, and the daily yield rate is limited. The pancake-making robot can analyze and learn from existing data after work every day. When the vending machine is officially put into full-fledged use, it should be capable of making 400 pancakes a day,” said the staff member.