The future is now: WeChat takes food service a big step backwards

Imagine walking into a restaurant: no one shows you your seat, no one takes your order, no one serves your food, and no one cleans for you. You do it all.

It sounds good ? Well, Renrenxiang from Beijing, owner of Hunan Kitchen, has implemented such a system, no doubt causing many restaurateurs to drool over saved staff costs, and many international ones. briefing spring from the advance of China. Here is the fuwuyuanless future …

We passed by one of the two outlets in Renrenxiang their “flagship” restaurant on Xiaoyun Lu to check things out.

Renrenxiang’s fame is a dining experience that requires no waiter.

We arrived just after the midweek lunch peak to find the restaurant less than six months old empty – either no one had ever been there or they had been surreptitiously maimed and sprayed in Soylent Green to feed future guests.

Five inactive employees hovered in the background without a word as I tried to figure out their futuristic ordering system.

With a little play, I got it: place your order in the fancy machine at the door (or through their WeChat account), pay with WeChat Wallet or Alipay (similar to McDonald’s), then collect the receipt and go to a table .

Your food will then be prepared in the kitchen (presumably by a human, but as far as we know by a cybernetic organism equipped with a 3D printer spitting out edible goo) and delivered on a conveyor belt.

You’ll know when your food is ready when your number lights up on a screen. You then collect your food, like a good little human.

After you finish eating, you put your tray back on the conveyor belt and leave. Quick. No need to make eye contact with human staff.

Unfortunately there is no English on the machine at all, so if you don’t read Chinese you don’t belong in the future anyway. Or you can enlist the help of the flesh and blood people (don’t call them waiters) who hang out in the dining room without taking orders.

All of this modern technology has made it possible to replicate all the service and charm of a working-class canteen from the Cultural Revolution era, albeit with more plastic, better mood lighting, and no push to grab the last one. mantou.

Staff no longer need to demean themselves by taking orders from customers with submission, giving them plenty of time to watch diners idle while wondering when their remaining tasks will be entirely replaced by the slow, cold walk of the room. technology towards the digitization of everything.

Or maybe they are scientists, talking about the notes on untrained anthropoid visitors to figure out exactly how long it takes to get clients to the conveyor belts and mechanically insert food into their mouths like force-fed geese for the ‘fattening (this being even more efficient system which also eliminates the need to sit).

The only other function of these humans, we can only assume, is to intervene in the event that imperfect customers fail to pick up their orders from the conveyor belt in a timely manner, triggering a burlesque-like crisis. I love lucy.

The restaurant is full of fake technologies that have all the charm of being on the set of Star Trek: The Last Canteen. The shiny floor is made of glass illuminated with blue LEDs, and the silver and black decor gives the whole place the feeling of a space capsule, meant to give nerds and kids at least three minutes of thrill until what they tire of taking selfies.

The food is decidedly less futuristic. The pork noodle soup (32 RMB) took a long time to cook, although I have to admit it was pretty exciting when I noticed it was being vomited from the kitchen. I almost compulsively shouted “Live Long and Prosper!” to thank the person or the other who placed my order, but there was nothing but a lonely abyss to behold at the end of the conveyor belt from which it came.

I also ordered a fish noodle soup (also RMB 32) which consisted of pieces of fried fish, two slices of egg tofu, vegetables (fresh and preserved) and a plate of marinated long beans. side. The soup was full of flavor, although the round rice noodles were boring and in no way seemed to me to be related to Hunan cuisine as they claim.

The pork noodle soup was packed with more meat, but unfortunately used the same lame noodles. While both servings were a decent size, the price wasn’t that appealing: the cost savings of not having to pay for servers obviously wasn’t passed on to the consumer here.

We also tried their “mooncake” dessert (月亮 粑粑, RMB 3), a ball of sweet green rice (青 团) that was so cold and stiff that our first attempt to dissect the alien object using a A solidly 20th-century cutlery item known as a spoon was completely futile (perhaps future cutlery will include chopsticks with laser beams for cutting through desserts like this). It also tasted more like the rubber of a conveyor belt rather than soft sticky rice, making it probably the worst green (un) sweet ball rice I have ever tried.

When you are not broadcasting your service tag, the large screen above the treadmill will display the message “Hello! We come from the future! in an infinite loop. Well I’m not sure that’s a future I want to live in.

Overall, this establishment obviously does not trade in the authenticity or taste of Hunan. it’s just a gimmick I’m sure everyone will be tempted to fall prey to at least once.

And it’s not impossible that some will appreciate the fact that you don’t have to talk to anyone, or leave the comfortable digital confines of your WeChat account to enjoy a meal.

Since a good part of us are already addicted, our pocket spouse 24/7s, ” perhaps a future devoid of all face-to-face interaction is inevitable. After all, why eat with your boring coworkers when you can watch the latest edition of “China’s Got Talent” airing in 5G while you sip your noodles?

Well call me a Luddite but I kinda like the good old days face to face fuwuyuan interaction. Even a cranky, inexperienced waitress can help you with a glass of water or a napkin and at least pamper you.

Goodbye 100% self-service future, I won’t be looking forward to you.

Oh, and one final note, their two bathrooms weren’t available if you needed an impending evacuation, and as far as I know WeChat Pee is still in beta, so be warned.

35-2 Xiaoyun lu, Chaoyang district (5368 9421)
人人 湘 : 朝阳 区 霄云 路 35-2 号

More stories from this author here.

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Photos: Renrenxiang, Tracy Wang

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