The food and beverage (F&B) industry is a tough line to be in — from intense competition to rising manpower and rental costs and now, a global pandemic.
According to Enterprise Singapore, only 60 per cent of small F&B businesses survive in their first five years of operation, and a third of F&B outlets are replaced each year.
To tackle the challenges of narrowing margins, the tight manpower crunch and other common issues faced by F&B owners, Singaporean company ROSS Digital Pte Ltd, has conceptualised and launched RATIO, the world’s first robotic café and lounge.
A cafe by day and a lounge by night, RATIO has robots working hand in hand with its F&B staff — “ratiologists” — to offer “super drinks and exceptional services to consumers.”
After launching several outlets in China since 2018, it has opened its first branch in Singapore at The Centrepoint, in conjunction with JustCo — Asia Pacific’s leading premium flexible workspace provider.
Nailing The Correct Ratio
RATIO serves up close to 60 drinks, from authentic Nanyang kopi to artisanal coffees and inventive cocktails. But how does it exactly work?
Assuming you would like to order a Kopi-C Gao (thick coffee with milk), you are able to use an ordering kiosk to determine the strength of your coffee. The customised order will be sent to the robot via the Cloud.
While one of the robotic arms will prepare your customised order by dispensing the correct amount of Kopi base milk and water, another will be used concurrently to Tarik (pull) the coffee between two canisters to bring out the Nanyang Kopi flavour.
For cocktails, the robot will pick up a glass and blast freeze it using compressed carbon dioxide. The robotic shaker will then collect the ice and the ingredients, shake or stir them and pour the mix into a glass.
A “ratiologist” will then add garnishing to the cocktail, before serving it.
Founder and CEO of RATIO, Gavin Pathross told Vulcan Post that there is a whole suite of proprietary software built into the robots — from order and inventory management systems to a CRM and POS system.
On the hardware side of things, RATIO engineers have had to build some of their own kitchen equipment by “hacking and adding new IoT technology”.
For example, Gavin said that there was no ice-maker-dispenser that was able to dispense an exact quantity of ice required for cocktails through an IoT protocol.
Hence, the engineers needed to create a new type of weight and dispensing mechanism that would be able to communicate with the cloud, and take inputs from users and operators.
Such a precise mechanism is needed as in the world of cocktail making, “every addition 10 grams of ice will change the chemistry and taste of the drink very significantly.”
According to Gavin, the first working prototype was built in three months, and the next nine months was spent on building a commercial unit that was deployed at K11 Shanghai in 2018.
Robots Will Not Replace Humans
Sharing on how the idea of RATIO came about, Gavin said that it started when he was working on the “Store of the Future” project for Pizza Hut and KFC five years ago.
The then Chief Digital Office at Yum! Brands China faced the problems of rising rents and labour shortage, and earmarked digitalisation and automation as the long-term solution.
Gavin was working on numerous solutions from table-scan-to-order, mobile pre-order, robotic food delivery, kitchen analytics, to partial kitchen automation.
He was convinced that this was going to be the future of the F&B industry, and thus left his role at Yum! Brands to start RATIO 3.5 years ago.
Despite the heavy use of robots at RATIO, Gavin is convinced that they will not be able to replace the “human touch”.
All of RATIO’s stores in China and Singapore are run by people, and the purpose of the robots are to relieve the staff from repetitive tasks.
Robots and A.I. are not here to replace the human touch. There are here to execute human orders, enabling our team of Ratiologists, trained by Asia’s best taochews, baristas and mixologists, to create that personal touch, so humans can do what humans do best — communicate and have great conversations.Gavin Pathross, Founder and CEO of RATIO, in an interview with Vulcan Post
In fact, Gavin said that RATIO experienced a significantly lower “ratiologist” attrition rate due to increased job satisfaction.
Customers also like that they are able to engage with the “ratiologists” better, as their usual distractions are eliminated, leading to a higher repeat customer rate.
Automation Is The Future Of F&B
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and economic peril that the world is experiencing, Gavin was ready to launch RATIO in accordance with its business plans.
Our homecoming has always been in the works with or without Covid-19, particularly because we see our technology as tackling real problems faced by F&B operators in Singapore.– Gavin Pathross, founder and CEO of RATIO
He shared that because of the pandemic, traditional spaces such as hotel lobbies, restaurants and cafes are being converted into flexible workspaces — offering another opportunity for RATIO.
Furthermore, Covid-19 has accelerated the trend to automated work, and RATIO has seen an increase in demand from F&B operators seeking help in building a solution.
Indeed, the idea is set to disrupt the F&B industry, with investors backing it. RATIO has received a round of investment led by a consortium of like-minded partners comprising Frasers Property, JustCo, zVentures, ORO and other high-profile individuals.
The brand also has plans to expand quickly.
RATIO’s second location will be launched in November at Seletar Aerospace Park, in partnership with The Singapura Club.
Gavin told Vulcan Post that the marriage of the concepts of both establishments will be a glimpse of the famous scene of the robotic bartender in the futuristic sci-fi movie The Passenger.
To add on, more than a dozen outlets are in the pipeline at leading airports, malls, hotels and co-working spaces across Asia.
One project close to our hearts is to ultimately fly the Nanyang kopi flag high internationally, in conjunction with our overseas expansion plans.
There’s no reason why our beautiful butter-roasted cuppa cannot be that go-to morning hit in London, Berlin, San Francisco or Dubai.– Gavin Pathross, founder and CEO of RATIO
Featured Image Credit: RATIO