Automats are back. After opening its first location in New York City’s East Village in the spring and signing deals to expand along the East Coast, Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, an automat-style dumpling-focused quick-service restaurant (QSR), is heading south. The chain announced this week that it has signed its first deal to expand to Texas, with at least five locations coming to the Dallas area. Ultimately, the restaurant plans to open 500 restaurants within five years.
“Brooklyn Dumpling Shop is booming with growth as the concept resonates with more and more customers in different regions,” Dan Rowe, CEO of Fransmart, the restaurant’s franchise development partner, said in a statement. “It’s an incomparable brand – the reimagination of the automat concept is enough to get people in the door, but the high quality and uniqueness of the dumplings is what keeps customers coming back.”
The resurgence and rapid growth of the automat confirms the predictions of many key players in the restaurant industry: Contactless is here to stay, and restaurants that cannot adapt their physical spaces to reflect the changes in the industry risk falling behind. At Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, for instance, customers order either online or at a kiosk and pick up their food from a designated cubby, which opens when the customer scans their physical or mobile receipt.
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The automat, along with other recent restaurant design innovations such as Taco Bell’s two-floor, mobile-integrated drive-thru, show that the rise in contactless ordering and payments opens up the possibility for QSR operators to get creative with their physical spaces, pushing well beyond the traditional order-at-the-counter, eat-at-the-table model.
What Consumers Are Saying
A study highlighted in the April edition of PYMNTS’ Order to Eat report, created in collaboration with Paytronix, found that 61 percent of consumers now prefer transacting with merchants that accept contactless payments. Additionally, PYMNTS data from the January edition of the report found that almost four out of 10 consumers would be encouraged to make restaurant purchases if the restaurant offered the ability to order and pay online.
What the Industry Is Saying
“Simply put, [the automat is] the safest and most convenient way to dine at the moment,” Joe Scutellaro, principal owner of another automat restaurant, Jersey City’s Automat Kitchen, told PYMNTS in an interview. “Time will always be our greatest and most limited resource, and we originally created the Automat Kitchen concept with that in mind. Customers can order ahead and select the time they want their order to be ready, then walk in and immediately retrieve their food and be on their way.”
The concept may be especially attractive to operators now, as the labor shortage grows from a short-term crisis into a longer-term obstacle.
“With the labor shortage, as well, as the cost of labor rises, [contactless] technologies will become a great solution for operators who’re trying to become more profitable and also safer,” David Litchman, founder of contactless ordering platform BellyMelly, told PYMNTS. “So I think ultimately, it’s not going to go away, it’s only going to continue to expand, even without a pandemic coming again.”