Vending machines have long been a part of the foodservice industry, dispensing soft drinks, candy, potato chips, and other snacks. Although most people have dropped a dollar or two into a vending machine to get a quick snack, many are reluctant to obtain anything other than prepackaged snack food from an automated machine. However, in many parts of the world, including Japan, food vending machines are common and popular, serving everything from eggs to fresh lobsters. Just as food trucks have revolutionized the places where food is served, several companies are seeking to change Americans’ perception of food vending machines, adding the high-tech gadgets to retail stores, airports, and other locations across the country.
A1 Concepts, a European company, recently began shipping pizza vending machines to Atlanta. Dubbed “Let’s Pizza”, the machines make pizza from scratch on demand for hungry consumers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In just 2.5 minutes, Let’s Pizza mixes and kneads dough, slathers on sauce, covers the pie with cheese and toppings, and bakes it in an infrared oven for one minute. Each 11 inch pizza from the machines retails for $5.95, delivering a fresh meal at a reasonable price.
If you think money is the only thing you can get from an ATM, think again. Sprinkles Cupcakes launched its cupcake ATM in March of this year, quickly winning the affection of confection-craving Beverly Hills residents and tourists alike. Priced at $100,000, each cupcake ATM can hold 600 cupcakes. Designed for easy use, the ATMs feature a touch screen with menu choices and a credit card reader. After customers make their selections and pay for their treats, a robotic arm within the machine grabs the cupcake from the shelf and dispenses the boxed dessert through a turnstile. Each cupcake sells for $4, a mere $0.50 more than those sold in Sprinkles’ bakery locations.
Should you invest in a vending machine for your foodservice business?
There are several pros and cons to owning a food vending machine. On the positive side, food vending machines can be cost effective for some businesses because they do not require as many employees as a restaurant location, costing you less in wages and benefits, a big advantage for foodservice establishments affected by the Affordable Care Act. Foodservice vending machines are also hands-free, appeasing the fears of customers concerned about germs and poor customer service. The convenience of self-service vending machines is also a plus, saving customers time by enabling them to purchase food where they are already shopping or traveling.
However, the portability of vending machines has its drawbacks. First, finding a great location may be difficult, especially in urban areas where snack and drink machines are already in abundance. Second, repairing a vending machine can be more of a hassle than repairing something at a restaurant, requiring an employee to travel to the machine’s location. Finally, theft can also be an issue, particularly for machines that accept cash.
When considering adding a vending machine to your foodservice endeavors, always consider the overall costs of the machine, including the labor to support it and the resources to secure a location, and the potential revenue the machine may generate. For some foodservice establishments, food vending machines are a great investment, while others may find that their time and money could be better devoted elsewhere.