The Modern Automat

In 1902, Horn & Hardart opened the first Automat in Philadelphia at 818 Chestnut Street, where passersby can still find the original “Automat” sign today.
April 1, 2022
The Modern Automat

While many consider the automats to be the first iteration of a quick-service restaurant, they differed from our current fast-food establishments

Elegant seating, art deco architecture, and an element of sophistication meant that patrons from all social classes ate in these affordable food halls. The Automat merged home style, self-service food with technology in a way that Americans had not experienced.

At its peak in the 1950s, Horn & Hardart operated over 100 locations in New York City alone. The chain of automats fed over 800,000 people a day, making it the world’s largest restaurant chain. The rise of fast-food restaurants and drive-throughs of the 1960s marked the decline of Horn & Hardart’s Automat, and by the early 1990s, their final restaurant had closed.

The automat concept is making a resurgence today, given the desire for contactless pickup and convenience. Spurred by the COVID-19 global pandemic, customers’ behaviors have changed.

From “drive-up” options at Target and Walmart to ordering through apps like DoorDash and GrubHub, people want convenience. To evolve with this new demand, RPI Industries developed a locker system and formed a partnership with Panasonic.

ONDO is a temperature-controlled locker system for contactless food pick up and is similar to the Automat. What makes these lockers different is that each locker can toggle between hot, cold, or ambient temperatures at the flip of a switch. ONDO’s patented technology also includes touchless doors, which make the unit a completely hands-free experience, differing from the coin-operated doors of the automats.

RPI’s strategic partnership with Panasonic gives businesses the best of both worlds: a state-of-the-art smart locker with powerful software technology and support.

The First Automat
The Modern Automat

Businesses have reported benefits in labor costs, freshness, and efficiency since installing ONDO units. A New York City restaurant brought their labor costs down from 30% to 18%. A quick-service restaurant stores meals that contain both hot and cold food in the same cube since the technology allows for split temperature control.

An ONDO installation at a university has delivered over 16,000 orders in one semester and solved the problem of overcrowding and long lines. ONDO food lockers are available in a wide variety of configurations, and the modular build allows for simple integration of different-sized lockers. This can come in handy for large orders or even catering trays. Lockers can be loaded from either the front or rear, making them convenient as a standalone option or when backed up against a kitchen. Installation can be entirely indoor or outdoor-facing, which is a game-changer for tight spaces. Businesses can also customize their units to match their branding and have the option to integrate the lockers with the current POS system.

People are demanding food quality and convenience, and owners of restaurants, supermarkets, food halls, stadiums, cafeterias, convenience stores, hotels, and casinos are responding with ONDO.

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