Robotic bartenders help Iceland fast casual prosper in face of pandemic

Ice & Fries, a Viking-themed fast casual concept in Iceland, relies on drink-making robots, a bionic dog and 3D technology to provide an epic self-service dining experience.

Robotic bartenders help Iceland fast casual prosper in face of pandemicIce & Fries features two cocktail shaking and dancing robots that can make more than 150 drinks per hour.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article ran on Fast Casual, a Kiosk Marketplace sister publication.

Most fast casual restaurants are known for their atmosphere as well as food, but that’s an understatement for Ice & Fries, a Viking-themed restaurant and bar in Iceland.

Operating mostly as a self-service concept, Ice & Fries opened in March boasting two cocktail-shaking and dancing robots — Tipsy Floki and Ragnar — who can make more than 150 drinks per hour.

The menus are projected onto glass windows at the entrance, and as customers step forward, light projection way-finders on the floor illuminate the experience that lies ahead. The seating area has an iceberg-inspired design featuring sound auditoriums where guests sit directly under domes to hear curated playlists. The walls are a 3D surface projecting light shows depicting the story of icebergs, and a robotic dog runs around entertaining customers as they order via phones or kiosks and watch 3D printers make drink and dessert garnishes.

CEO Priyesh Patel said that while the experience is important, the restaurant could not survive without amazing food. Chefs and food designers from the Netherlands, Portugal, Uganda, South Africa, United Kingdom and Iceland created the menu featuring 125 cocktails and 15 gourmet fries specialties.

Dishes such as “The Brave Norse Potato,” “Eat Quick, The Volcano Is Coming” and “‘The Drunken Bollocks” — which is glazed ram testicles with vodka — not only sparks curiosity but leaves customers wanting more.

Open during a pandemic

Sales have been exceptional considering the wold has been on a COVID-19 pandemic since the concept opened, Patel said.

“The locals supported the launch and kept us extremely busy to the point we have to regularly turn away visitors due to being a full house,” he said during a recent interview. “We are able to cover our costs which is pleasing, and we expect that the visiting hours will become all-rounded once tourism resumes, leading to a tripling of our sales.”

Guests place orders on kiosks, tablets and phones.

Although Patel said the company never anticipated the pandemic, the timing for a self-service concept was perfect.

“The robotic bar is exactly the kind of fast casual self-service concept that is required to stay in line with the recommended health guidelines,” he said. “Guests order everything themselves on their own phones should they wish to and collect drinks and food from counters with almost no contact with staff needed.”

To create the robots, Fries & Ice worked with Kuka Robotics in Italy.

“We are also working now on a food robot to fully automate the bar,” Patel said. “They do produce robots for other companies on order, however, our relationship is quite special because of our vision and what we are about to embark on.”

“We are therefore able to scale volumes and (offer) lower costs to customers for purchases whilst offering staff better salaries than most competitors.”

The human touch?

Although technology literally runs the show, human employees are still a major component of the experience.

“Most certainly, the human touch is essential to the bar,” said Patel about his “bionic managers,” who dress in Viking-inspired warpaint and iceberg jewelry created by the 3D printers.

The restaurant employs eight in-house humans, while six people help manage it remotely, and about five others work as consultants.

Next-level ordering

The bionic bar offers a look into the future; especially when it comes to the ordering process.

Guests may order on their phones or from of the 25 tablets and kiosks, which take payment and send the user a receipt with the ticket number via email or text. To follow the status of their orders, customers may check the projection wall but also receive a digital confirmation when their food is ready.

Online ordering and takeout or delivery are also available.

“We actually designed our own technology and artificial intelligence to run this bar,” said Patel, who admitted that the company also tapped Apicbase, a Belgium-based restaurant management software platform, to help manage its back-of-house operations.

“(Apicbase) forms one part of our core of 50 modules that operate the systems that run the bar,” he said. “Apicbase is pretty affordable; there are companies using it but we are the first to push it to its limits as we are a tech business and automation is necessary for us to scale.”

All menu-related content that customers see comes from Apicbase, and Ice & Fries’ bionic managers use it to track recipes, ingredients, nutritional values, pricing, allergen information and inventory.

“The whole process from ordering to production, stocktaking and procurement is a closed loop that is powered entirely by a platform developed by hospitality software expert Apicbase,” Patel said.

Each sale — online or in the kiosks — feeds back through the API into Apicbase and depletes the stock in real-time. Then, the system uses the inventory status in combination with the recipes to accurately determine the number of portions left in stock.

As soon as a specific product reaches a critical stock level, the menu-item is taken offline and off the displays. The system is always live and accurate and customizable per outlet.

“This is necessary because not all outlets carry the same assortment of menu-items,” Patel said. “Some outlets, for example, sell alcoholic beverages as a takeaway while others don’t.”

Aibo, the bar’s bionic puppy, is powered by artificial intelligence.

Apicbase does inventory counts down to raw ingredients, which makes it easy to create a precise bill of materials for procurement. This way, the bar avoids overstocking and prevents uncontrolled food waste.

The app also helps to maintain consistency in production.

“In our production app for the kitchen staff, we display the ingredients of every order and a step-by-step prep guide, Patel said. ” All this information, including the visuals for the guide, is pulled from the Apicbase platform. “

Lastly, Apicbase allows Ice+Fries to calculate a detailed food cost per portion, including wastage.

“We instantly know if we’ve reached our target margin. We even incorporate the water and CO2 costs for ice making,” Patel said. “The numbers are accurate down to a cent.”

For an update on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting kiosks, click here.

The cost of doing business

The founders of GlacierFire, a luxury beverage company in Iceland, are behind Ice & Fries. They invested more than $2 million to develop the flagship in Iceland’s capital city and are now developing locations in Lisbon, Paris and Berlin. Each will cost about $1.2 million, Patel said.

“Our roadmap is designed to open multiple bars across Europe, one per major city over the next five years as we begin to establish ourselves and learn from the prototype in Iceland,” he said.

Although Ice & Fries is proprietary, it’s seeking partners interested in licensing the concept.

“We are currently looking for interested parties with capital to speed the process in expansion, Patel said. “We have interest from the famous NOBU group and a few other highly influential celebrities who would like to open one of these bars in partnership with us in Barcelona and Berlin.”

For an update on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting kiosks, click here.

Photos courtesy of Ice & Fries.

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