While automats once reigned in the past, they are currently reestablishing themselves in the food industry as a fast-casual concept that will be hard to miss in the future. Designed to optimize convenience and be virtually contactless, automats are especially suited to the current needs of consumers. If you’re looking to venture into the restaurant industry for the first time or expand your current operations, automats are an innovative and reliable investment.

A vending machine-style experience, automats allow you to choose a meal from a digital menu, pay, and pull out a fresh, delicious meal from a locker. Automats have seen a rise in popularity in the past couple of years, as a convenient and quick way to pick up orders for on-the-go customers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, automats have boomed amongst consumers as a contactless and easy way to dine. Click here to read more about the history of automats and their return.

How To Set Up Your Own Automat

Once you’ve settled on creating an automat dining experience for your business, you’ll have to take some time to set up before opening your doors to customers. Running a modern-day automat is similar to most fast-casual concepts or ghost kitchens. Automats are cost-effective because you won’t need a dining room or front-of-the-house staff to run daily operations. Attracting customers to your automat requires a marketing plan that will highlight the uniqueness of your business as well as the appeal of contactless dining.

From ordering your very own automat to organizing contactless technology, and training your staff, below is a guide to setting up an automat restaurant.

1. Find Your Location

When searching for the ideal location to house your automat restaurant, keep in mind that automats themselves don’t need a formal dining room. Similar to ghost kitchens, automat restaurants need enough room for a professional kitchen, the automat itself, and a small waiting area for pickup and delivery orders. Spend some time browsing and visiting possible locations around your area to house the automat food concept you’re looking to create. To ensure that you’ll have a steady flow of customers, choose an area full of high-traffic businesses and on-the-go workers who are often looking for a quick bite to eat in between their shifts.

Once you’ve chosen a location that is suited to your business’s needs, take some time to determine the layout of your establishment. Depending on the kind of menu you’ll be creating for your automat, you’ll want to do some research on what equipment is required for specific food concepts. Research traditional automat layouts and how they’ve been updated for modern patrons. Find inspiration in the layout and aesthetic of restaurants that have a similar food concept to yours and use that to elevate your location. Order the kitchen equipment needed for your restaurant, and organize everything into a layout that is optimized for efficiency and tailored to the workflow of your back-of-the-house staff. Once you’ve opened your automat, this will greatly streamline the pace your employees are able to serve guests. For more information on running a restaurant kitchen efficiently, click here.

2. Order Your Automat

Once you’ve ordered the kitchen equipment needed for your establishment, you’ll have to order the most essential item: your automat! At the height of the automat craze in the previous century, automats were manufactured mainly by Quisisana. In modern times, automats are not as readily available as they once were in the past. You’ll have to take some time to research where you can purchase an automat that is best suited for your business. Automats and similar technology are manufactured by Brightloom in the United States, but you can also research and order automats from other parts of the world.

3. Create Your Menu

As you come closer to opening day, creating a menu that is exciting and enticing for potential customers is key in ensuring that your automat is a success. Get creative with what you would like to serve at your restaurant, and what current industry trends can be used. If you’ve already determined what food concept your automat will be serving, take some time to brainstorm recipes and host a taste-testing session with your staff to fully develop your menu.

When creating a menu for your automat, keep in mind that the dishes you’ll be serving will have to be optimized for delivery. Meals that are easy to prepare and travel well should be featured on your menu. Consider options like dumplings, tacos, sushi, boxed lunches, bowls, and more for your automat. Invest in high-quality take out supplies that will stand out from the competition and impress your customers. Choose take out containers that are greaseproof and leakproof to stop foods from getting soggy or causing messes and drink carriers can secure beverages during delivery to avoid any spills. As off-premise dining continues to be a trend amongst consumers, optimizing your menu to meet the needs of your customers will be a huge advantage for your business.

4. Set Up Contactless Technology

Automats were the predecessor to modern forms of contactless dining. In an age where off-premise dining is skyrocketing and where consumers value comfort and contact-free methods of interaction, automats are the perfect solution. Contactless technology is essential for modernizing automats restaurants, and you should definitely consider investing in it before opening your doors.

Creating a contactless experience for customers at your automat means that you’ll have to consider how patrons will interact with menus, payment, and order pickup. There are digital menus that can be opened through QR codes or displayed on screens. Customers can then choose to order an item from the screen, and proceed to digital payment methods. Consider investing in machines that allow you to scan cards or other contactless ways to pay. Ordering systems that can send orders directly to staff and send over a text or email to customers when they are ready will streamline the process for everyone.

Automats are designed to have an employee insert an order on one end of the automat so that a customer can unlock their order from a locker on the other side. This ensures that their pickup experience is contactless, along with every other step of the process.

5. Train Your Staff

Before opening your doors, consider hosting several training sessions with your staff. Modern automats are a brand-new concept, and although you might have hired employees with previous restaurant experience, you’ll have to train them on how automats function. It’s important your staff feels comfortable preparing all the items found on your menu, and running the automat itself. Consider scheduling several training sessions with your staff before opening day.

Besides training your back-of-the-house staff on how to prepare menu items and handle inventory, you’ll also want to train your employees on other aspects of your restaurant. One training session could be dedicated to a run-through of a typical lunch rush, or how to properly operate the automat. Be sure to create a cleaning schedule and implement hygiene standards amongst your staff. You could also dedicate some time to teaching your employees the history of the automat and why it’s been brought back as a current industry trend. Hosting several training sessions with your staff before your automat opens will ensure that your business runs smoothly and successfully.