What is an iRestaurant?

An iRestaurant is a fully automated facility that serves food and experience to customers specifically requiring zero employees. The concept was created to deal with one of the most difficult, volatile, and expensive aspects of running a restaurant, the human employees. This concept took well over a century to manifest, but its origins can be traced back to labor shortages and economic riots in the late Petroleum Era. The basic idea was that a robot would never go on strike, spit in food, fail a drug test, or have sex with a customer in the restrooms in exchange for stealing goods and services.

Basics:

An iRestaurant fully automates the entire kitchen of a normal restaurant. This is typically done with a mixture of freestanding robots that perform non-mobile tasks, such as a fry bot that is a deep fryer with robot arms and hoppers so that it keep churning out french fries so long as it is asked for them, and its hoppers are fed.

Two robotic technologies allowed the iRestaurant to flourish: basic autons and L/AISC. Autons allowed for walking and talking machines to take the most fluid of job positions, such as keeping the dining area clean, and moving food from the prep-bots to tables or counters. The Limited Artificial Intelligent Super Computer allowed a single computer system to coordinate the actions off all the automatic systems inside the iRestaurant as well as coordinating supply chains from hubs, and handling financial transactions, so that each installation was efficient and profitable.

Hurdles:

There were several major hurdles for the iRestaurant. The most vocal hurdle was the former industry worker, as the service industry at the time was a large sector, and a large expense for the corporations. The first automatic restaurants were routinely picketed, or even physically blockaded by former employees. As this started losing public support, some turned to sabotage or violence, setting of what is colloquially known as the Restaurant Wars.

The Fast Food Wars were fought across North America, western and central Europe, and scattered parts of Asia. What started as protestors vandalizing buildings turned into the first serious corporate war, and saw the implementation of wide scale cyberwarfare. Restaurants had their supply chains sabotaged, or even stolen. Utilities were compromised, and some core locations were hit by paramilitary professionals, all under the guise of rioting former employees trying to save their livelihoods. The end result was billions of dollars in corporate mergers and hostile take-overs and the consolidation of all fast food chains and franchises under a single banner, answering to a single board, a monopoly of unimaginable size.

McSK-Yum was the king of the fast food hill. (McDonalds/Subway/KFC - Yum brands including Taco Bell and Pizza Hut).

Technological hurdles were easier to cross. The automation came from basic stationary and work forge robots, with freestanding autons to carry out the small amount of menial work once done by dozens or even hundreds of people for each locations. The most important piece of the automatic restaurant came from retired military equipment and the military industrial complex. The Limited Artificial Intelligence system, or LAI, was well established there, allowing people to pilot mecha, and control aircraft that could change their own shape. The boon came with the retirement of the AFAF's Militar medium mech. The Militar was a mediocre machine, with no outstanding specs, and was desperately overpriced. Such is the fate of post-war equipment. The LAI cores were sold, and McSK-Yum bought the entire supply, as well as employing several hundred technicians to install them and then become the general managers of the iRestaurants they were running. Compared to running a mech, running a few industrial robots and cooking stations was nothing.

Performance and Problems

The iRestaurants performed well enough, but there was a single internal problem and a major external one. The internal problem was that while removing the human element took cost and human volatility out of the equation, it took people out as well. The machines cooked, and delivered as asked, but without inflection or character, the menu was adhered to 100%, all of the time. There were no nuances, no special items, nothing that a specific location gained a reputation for. The crispy fried chicken (or chicken substitute) was always the same.

The mediocrity of the iRestaurant was blamed for the death of food culture across large parts of the Atlantic Federation. The franchises were cheap to run and highly profitable. Getting the same mediocre food wasn't a problem for many people, because cost controls had kept this food cheap. The use of industrially produced food-stuffs made it cheaper to eat faux at an iRestaurant than even cooking at home. Kitchens shrank into kitchenettes. Local restaurants were forced to become food carts or food trucks, or go boutique, where the appeal was human staff and guaranteed ingredients.

One unexpected outcome of the iRestaurant was prepackaged meals that were saved for later. This came from the top, with a few tech savvy franchises figuring out how to work a boxing machine into their kitchens, making meals and sealing them, and selling them. These locations started making more money as customers would often buy one hot meal, and two or three to take home. The next logical step was putting codes on them, selling the packaging space for advertising, and even having a code printed on the top so that a smart microwave could heat the meal and the customer only had to put it inside, the machine did the rest.

The gimmick came from a splinter-cell of McSK-Yum, a demi-local franchise that handled ethno-latin food. They created a specific code that could only be read by a SmartWave they had programmed. They gave several away, created a licensing deal with a local manufacturer to make them as an upgrade of the basic model, and created an industry niche. These branded SmartWaves could cook anything, they could read any pre-printed code. The units lacking the upgrade couldn't cook the ethno-latin meals, and those had to be keyed in manually.

iRestaurant Versus the Food Dispensary

The Food Dispensary is the chief rival of the iRestaurant, but it is the routine second place choice. The dispensary was a subsidized operation that was created to address hunger and malnutrition in the poorer parts of the Federation, and places outside of it. The ready to eat meals the dispensary produces are basic, on par with military rations. While most considered the operation of a food dispensary to be a step down from the previous food banks and soup kitchens, the cost was less and the output was less dependent on public charity and volunteers.

iRestaurants would often do promotions with dispensary chains, allowing for their lowest tier meals to be offered from said dispensaries, but only during certain promotions, times of the year, or something else relevant to a marketing campaign or shadow campaign against something offsetting the income prospectus for a region. 

The Illusion of Choice

The average Arcology will have a minimum of one food court, or a food court for every 10,000 residents. The largest arcologies have a food court and commercial level every five decks. These will have a varying number of installations, no fewer that four, and seldom more than a dozen. Despite the different colors, aethetics, menus, and competing offers, all of these are the fronts of a single iRestaurant. There are often central kiosks in the food court for non-competing operations, such as coffee shops, or small specialty operations that don't have a large enough profit margin to warrant being brought into the hypercorp portfolio, such as sweets shops, ice creameries, or a local/ethnic installation that specifically doesn't compete with the corporate eateries. A churro stand would be allowed, but a mom and pop taco stand would not.

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