In this unmanned coffee shop, designed by Japanese studio nendo and located in the observation deck of Roppongi Hills, customers are asked to prepare the coffee themselves. Five kinds of roasted beans await in a vending machine that looks and acts like a capsule toy. The grinding process is automated (pic 4), and all you have to do is start the process through a copper switch (pic 5).
The dripper and the cup are then set on the extractor where coffee is finally served. In Japan, the rise of specialty coffee chains and third-wave coffee shops, as well as the spread of convenience store coffee, is diversifying the coffee choices and how they are enjoyed more than ever before, making coffee an indispensable part of our lives.
According to the studio, by simplifying the operation and asking the customers to take part in preparing the coffee, the role of the employees has been reduced ( the boiling process is unmanned but you do find stuff at Gacha Gacha café) enabling them to spend that extra time to communicate with the customers. Another important aspect is that by having the customers participate, they were relieved from the stress often felt while waiting in line with frustration for their coffee. In other words, the intention was not to create a completely automated café, rather, it was to provide a comfortable and peaceful time for both the customers and the employees.
I remember very well how we lined up often when visiting Japan, it was not a stressful situation during vacation but I can imagine that the waiting time can get tight during a normal labor day.
Also, Oki Sato points out when describing this project, that many coffee shop chains and cafes are facing serious labor shortages caused by a declining birth rate. On top of the current condition of not being able to secure manpower, employees are expected to have a deep understanding of coffee and possess customer service skills, in addition to having to conduct basic operations such as operating the cash register, cooking, serving, and cleaning. Despite all of this, in many cases, the training time and the cost invested in personnel is not sufficient, resulting in the decline of service quality, and eventually leading to customer dissatisfaction. Although it was possible to create an unmanned store that takes full use of technology in order to solve this problem, the café was designed as a self-service type that embodies analog elements.