Sweetgreen, the popular salad chain known for its trendy branding and eco-friendly packaging, is venturing into the world of automation. The company is testing a range of salad-making robots, starting with a new location in the suburbs of Chicago.
The robot system, named Infinite Kitchen, is the brainchild of Spyce, a startup that Sweetgreen acquired in 2021. Spyce was founded with the sole purpose of introducing robotic kitchens to restaurants across the United States and even opened its own robot restaurant, bearing the same name, in 2018 (which closed after the acquisition). Now, Spyce’s founders are working closely with Sweetgreen to adapt the robot array for salad preparation—an endeavor that proves more challenging than it may seem.
During a visit to the Chicago pilot location with Bloomberg reporters, Sweetgreen co-founder Nathaniel Ru and Infinite Kitchen co-creator Michael Farid revealed that perfecting the portioning system of the robot array took multiple iterations. This component of Infinite Kitchen employs transparent canisters to dispense ingredients into salad bowls. While the specifics of the system were not disclosed, it’s evident that items like hard-boiled eggs, arugula, and almonds behave differently when released from a gravity canister. The ordering process begins with customers submitting their requests via touch-screen tablets. A compostable salad bowl then glides down a moving track, rotating as each ingredient is added. Finally, the bowls arrive at a human employee who verifies the accuracy of each salad, adds any additional sides, and places the order on a pickup shelf.
The aim of Infinite Kitchen is to enhance efficiency and minimize errors, such as missing ingredients or incorrect customization. However, Ru acknowledges that it also reduces the number of human workers required per shift. While humans are still responsible for preparing Sweetgreen’s fresh ingredients, stocking the portioning canisters, maintaining cleanliness, and assisting customers in using the new system, the production line is predominantly automated.
Sweetgreen joins the growing list of restaurant chains embracing automation. Wendy’s, for instance, recently announced its collaboration with Google to implement chatbot-driven order-taking in its drive-thru service. White Castle has also experimented with kitchen robots over the past year and found enough success to deploy robots in 100 of its locations nationwide.