The Latest Technology in Japan's Dining Industry

Japan's dining industry continues to evolve with many new experiments.

Japan's dining industry continues to evolve with many new experiments.
(Top left photo courtesy of OryLab Inc.; top right photo courtesy of SoftBank Robotics Corp.; bottom photos are courtesy of and ©︎ NAKED, INC.)

Japan's dining industry offers many different ways to eat out: restaurants, cafes, fast food, and more. The industry has an ongoing issue of labor shortages, but there are many stores that appeal to customers with a unique approach. Let's look at how Japan's dining industry is evolving with technology.

Tray Delivery Robots Work in the Dining Industry and Help Realize DX

A tray delivery robot designed to work together with a human employee. (Photo courtesy of SoftBank Robotics Corp.)

An increasing number of restaurants and cafes are introducing tray delivery robots to solve the labor shortage issue in Japan's dining industry.

Introducing tray delivery robots lets employees focus on the tasks that only humans can do. Instead of spending time serving and taking away plates, they can spend more time speaking with customers. This lets employees give more fine-tuned hospitality to customers, such as by giving detailed descriptions about the dishes or recommending additional things to order.

A tray delivery robot at work. (Photo courtesy of SoftBank Robotics Corp.)

Tray delivery robots use 3D cameras, LiDAR (light sensor technology), and many other kinds of high-performance sensor equipment to identify people moving around them. Not only that—these robots can detect and smoothly avoid shoes, bags, or anything else about 2 inches tall or higher. Many restaurants in Japan have zashiki (Japanese-style rooms with tatami flooring) and hori-gotatsu (tables with a sunken heated floor underneath) that require customers to take their shoes off. As such, one special characteristic of these robots is that they were designed without compromises so that they could even detect shoes close to the floor.

A robot avoiding objects as it moves. (Photo courtesy of SoftBank Robotics Corp.)

Dishes can be placed on the top tray from any angle. This tray is able to hold tall dishes and beer glasses, too. The robots can be controlled remotely, and so they can be used flexibly to suit what is happening within the store.

You can take dishes from the top tray at any angle. (Photo courtesy of SoftBank Robotics Corp.)

The development of Japanese tray delivery robots is expected to continue evolving in the future so that people working in the dining industry can use them more efficiently.

A Cafe with Remote-Control Hospitality

An avatar robot greets customers at the entrance to the cafe. (Photo courtesy of OryLab Inc.)

At one cafe in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, a staff member called a "pilot" controls an avatar robot from home or another remote location to give service to customers. Based on the concept of "giving all the possibility to stay connected with society," this cafe was developed so that people who are unable to leave their houses due to severe disabilities or other reasons can work at the cafe through the robot and participate in society.

When you enter the cafe, your eyes are immediately drawn to a robot that greets you with a friendly "Hello!" before asking if you have a reservation. This robot also skillfully guides any customers who are confused as they come into the cafe. This robot is controlled by a person, and not AI, so it can hold conversations in a more flexible way.

An avatar robot is placed near the seats of the cafe. The pilot takes customers' orders through this robot. On top of this, the pilot can talk to customers and provide service in unique ways. For example, if a customer comes to the cafe on their birthday, the pilot can display an image with "Happy Birthday!" on it to celebrate.

These unique kinds of service are not all written in the staff rules. Sometimes, the pilots think of their own ways to bring joy to customers. If another pilot sees this hospitality, they might decide to incorporate their approach as well. This brings a synergistic effect to customer service. When the pilots are not talking to customers, they actively exchange information between themselves from time to time.

An avatar robot moving back and forth among the seats. (Photo courtesy of OryLab Inc.)

One interesting thing about avatar robots is that while they look the same, they can show different characteristics in how they move based on the pilot controlling them. For example, one pilot might apologetically raise the robot's arms to its head because the pilot is not very skilled at English and finds it difficult to speak with customers coming from abroad. Looking at these gestures makes you really feel that these robots are the avatars of the people controlling them.

This cafe started as an experiment for people who cannot easily go outside to be able to participate in society. However, these avatar robots have gradually begun to appear in more and more places to help solve ongoing labor shortages in other cafes and restaurants, too. The robots have already been introduced into some fast food establishments.

Experience-based Restaurants with VR Technology and Projection Mapping

A dish titled "water" that combines food with art. (© NAKED, INC.)

One experience-based restaurant in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo lets you enjoy the stories of many different living things through unique expressions that combine food with art.

At this restaurant you experience an attraction in a small room before the meal starts. After this, you move into the main room of the restaurant, in which you are surrounded by projection mapping on all the walls. You eat the dishes while listening to narration alongside VR, interactive art, and other special effects. Each dish and effect has a different theme. By experiencing all of these together, you can enjoy a story that fuses food with art.

A dish titled "Amuse" that combines food with art. (© NAKED, INC.)

While these effects have a lot of effort put into them, the chefs also pay special attention to the meals themselves. The chefs use fresh seasonal ingredients from Japan and incorporate their diverse culinary experience from abroad to create each dish. They also focus on the colors and combinations of ingredients so that the food will blend well with the images when served.

A vegan lunch course meal. (© NAKED, INC.)

There are also vegan menu options to accommodate a wide range of customer needs. The chefs aim to create the most delicious dishes possible using only plant-based ingredients, while also utilizing their insight in macrobiotics and nutrition. Their vegan meals are highly satisfying and well received for both their taste and portion sizes.

This restaurant also takes care to be sustainable. For example, it has selected environmentally-friendly straws and takeout containers. It also uses a large quantity of "flawed" vegetables (with irregular shapes or other imperfections) to help prevent food loss. This restaurant's consideration for people and the environment is an additional aspect that makes it appealing, on top of the entertaining and enjoyable experience it offers.

Japan's dining industry has many challenges, such as the severe blow it suffered in the COVID-19 pandemic as well as ongoing labor shortages. However, companies in this industry take on challenges with ingenious approaches to produce a unique form of appeal despite these harsh conditions. Who knows what new experiments Japan's dining industry will carry out next?