Blog From The <3

Please, No More Robots At Lunch

In which NYLON’s culture editor protests the rise of robot restaurants.

I don’t consider myself a luddite. I have fun with ChatGPT by asking it to explain historical events as if it were Samantha Jones from Sex and the City. But on a recent trip to Los Angeles, I saw a terrible form of technology as my friend drove me around Hollywood: a pink, boxy robot wobbling on four wheels down the crosswalk of a busy intersection. “What the f*ck is that?” I asked her. “It’s called Coco,” she told me. “It’s a robot that delivers, like, food and drinks to people.” I immediately found it wretched.

I’m not a fan of the uptick in robotics in my everyday life — but especially when it comes to getting lunch. I can ignore a sinister, smiling robot patrolling the aisles of a grocery store, but I can’t escape the “upgraded” touch screen ordering system of my local dim sum spot, which swapped out an employee for an authoritative robotic voice announcing that my order is ready. When Kernel, a robot-run vegetarian restaurant from the guy who brought you Chipotle opened near the NYLON office, it felt like the robots were closing in on me. You can’t order in person at the establishment — which boasts a staggering $36 million in fundraising from investors — because barely anyone works there. Instead, a robot arm prepares your food. It’s bleak.

Kernel believes it will revolutionize the fast food industry; I think its vision is making everything worse. I’m not sure when we decided that minimizing human interaction was the way forward. I don’t care if I have an awkward interaction with a bodega cashier when grabbing a drink or accidentally say “you too” to someone when they tell me to enjoy my salad — and neither should you. These moments are timeless and universal, something everyone who opts for a rushed fast casual lunch experiences. Robots coming into the equation puts us on a wayward path toward a more sterile and boring future.

In my perfect world, we’d all have time to have three-hour-long, two-martini lunches. I know those days are over, but the least we can do is honor the little moments, like the brief connection that comes with ordering from a human being. I used to think the lunch-related fight of my generation of office workers was resisting eating in front of our computers in order to actually enjoy our lunch breaks. But now I see it’s something much more nefarious that cuts us off from ourselves. Besides, I’m sure a person can make a much better sandwich than any robot arm.