Image: Piestro

With restrictions on indoor dining, the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to transform operations virtually overnight, with no-contact delivery and curbside takeout becoming popular options. Compared to pre-pandemic, 68% of people were “more likely to purchase takeout from a restaurant” and about half (53%) said takeout and delivery were “essential to the way they live,” according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report. A new automated all-in-one robotic pizzeria could transform traditional ‘za takeout with bot delivery in the works.

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Amid a modern plague, the pizza industry thrived during what was a turbulent time for the hospitality space. Almost 2,000 new pizza shops popped up during the pandemic, according to a New York Times article heralding the foldable-delivery staple as “the restaurant hero of 2020.”

The company, Piestro, is taking an automated approach to pizza-making using an all-in-one robotic slice shop, or as the company calls the approach: “Crafting the artisanal pizza experience with a futuristic twist.”

“With the onset of the pandemic came a rising concern for greater health and safety measures across restaurants and an accelerated need to shift to a takeout and delivery model for operators,” said Piestro CEO Massimo Noja De Marco. “In that ‘new normal’ as we called it, consumers turned to quick access food options with minimal human contact – and that is not going away a year and a half later.”

Overall, the entire pizza-making process takes three minutes, per Piestro’s website, and the individual units feature a viewing window, giving customers a firsthand look as the robo-pizzaiolo doles out the sauce and cranks out pies inside.

The startup Piestro has “designed robots that make pizza at a fraction of the cost of traditional pizzerias,” the website said, noting that it is “able to maintain high quality ingredients in order to make better pizzas and offer them at lower prices to customers” by “all but eliminating the retail footprint and labor costs associated with producing pizza.”

“For locations, businesses, and restaurants that deploy Piestro, there is also the benefit of cost efficiency, as Piestro is far less costly than traditional dining options,” De Marco said.

Image: Piestro

A series of graphics on the company’s website compares Piestro’s all-in-one approach to the “traditional pizzeria,” which the company describes as a “lower-margin business hindered by high labor and real estate costs.” In the traditional model, food costs (18%), labor (28%), real estate (12%) and “other” costs (20%) cut into the overall profit margin (22%), according to Piestro estimates, “based on management’s experience and available information in fast casual restaurants.”

With the Piestro approach, profit jumps to 48% alongside comparatively lower labor (10%), real estate (10%), and other expenditures (14%), although food costs remain the same (15%), according to the company’s estimates based on “management’s evaluation of available information regarding automation in fast casual restaurants.”

A graphic on the site highlights the “dual revenue stream approach” for pizza chains (national and regional) and direct to consumer customers. On the DTC front, Piestro’s list of potential locations includes shopping malls, offices, while the units would enable chains to expand to new geographic areas and “audiences.”

“A big reason Piestro has driven investor interest is due to its capabilities as a standalone pizzeria that makes artisan quality pies available in spaces closer to where consumers live, like apartment complex lobbies,” De Marco said.

The coronavirus pandemic “exacerbated” consumer’s overall appetite for the “low-contact, faster delivery service trend,” De Marco said, adding that it’s the company’s mission to meet this demand “without sacrificing the quality, freshness, and taste of the food itself.”

U.S. labor shortage and automation

After a year of layoffs and high unemployment, many employers have ramped up hiring in recent months, however, companies have had trouble bringing new workers into the fold, and this labor shortage acutely impacted the hospitality and foodservice sector. On this topic, De Marco said, “at the highest level, Piestro is addressing the labor shortage currently crippling the industry” as well as other public health considerations.

“Our robotic solution not only helps assist with filling those open positions that workers aren’t returning for, but it also allows for continued social distancing among current kitchen staff so restaurants are protected from pandemic-related disruptions,” he said.

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Oven to door: Automated pizza and bot delivery

As we previously reported, Domino’s and self-driving vehicle company Nuro launched an autonomous delivery program in April, with bots set to dish out pies to select customers in Houston. Last October, Piestro announced a partnership with robotics company Kiwibot that would entail bots braving the last mile to deliver pies crafted in the standalone robotic pizzeria.

At the time, Piestro said the all-in-one kitchens would “come integrated with a dispensing mechanism for Kiwibot, allowing for contactless delivery, further limiting the potential for customer exposure to harmful pathogens” via in-app ordering.

It’s important to note that an asterisk on the website explains that the included photos of the pizza-making unit show the company’s “functional first prototype,” as Piestro’s machine is in development and “not currently available on the market.” A countdown clock on the site ticks down the seconds remaining September; the “final month to invest in the “delicious pizza maestro.”