From robots to drones to graphene, the myriad ways eating dinner will be very different in just a few years.
In the year 2108, what will have changed about how we experience dining? Will our food be cooked by robots and brought to us by drones? Will we have smart tables to order from and apps that can change the flavor of our drinks? Or will all these high-tech innovations have been phased out in favor of a back-to-nature slowdown, prioritizing pure ingredients and the warmth of human interaction over a fully automated dining room?
Come along as we spend this month exploring the fantastic future of dining.
First up, we gathered several experts to share their views about what’s coming around the bend. In this video you’ll hear from app creator Alper Guler on the future of food technology, scientific events producer Rachel Karpf on the direction scientists are going to take our dinner, “food futurist” Tim West on why the food of tomorrow will harken back to yesterday, and mixologist Rael Petit on the sustainable future of cocktails.
Pancake-Flipping Robots and 3-D-Printed Space Pizza
As one Boston chef predicted, as we move further into the future, “tableside guacamole will give way to tableside 3-D entrée printing, and farm-to-table will turn into lab-to-table.”
Astronauts can already print 3-D pizzas in space; here on Earth, we’re printing much more. And that’s just one kind of dining automation. Three years ago Eater was already rounding up food-related robots on the market — from drink mixers to sushi rollers to pancake flippers — and in China and India, robots are already wheeling their way across restaurants bearing food and drinks.
Super-Smart Tables and Exotic Virtual Worlds
Tech is coming to our actual tables as well: Eater laid out an elaborate fantasy of the smart table of tomorrow, which notifies staff when it needs to be cleaned, is programmed with a swipe-able menu, and is equipped with a payment system compatible with smartphones.
And tables can already contribute to a whimsical eating experience, like the projection-mapped ones made by Belgian artists Skullmapping. As the site Spellbound puts it, “Technological advances are making it possible for innovators to create full sensory experiences, and projection mapping is an example of this type of storytelling at work.”
Sensory drinking and dining experiences can also come courtesy of virtual and augmented reality. As summarized by Jenny Dorsey at TechCrunch, many drink brands are creating VR experiences to go with their beverages, from augmented tastings to holographic visual accompaniments. Restaurants are using AR and VR to project 3-D images of menu items onto your table, as well as changing the images on the walls to match the courses served, or full-on immersing diners in virtual versions of fantastical exotic worlds. One prototype app can superimpose cocktail recipes and other information right onto whatever bottle you have in front of you. And the company Project Nourished has created a holistic VR dining experience that tricks all the senses at once, turning the act of munching a cube of algae in your kitchen into a dining on the finest sushi while lounging in a Japanese garden.
At home, our dining experience is being technologically enhanced as well. Nutrigenomics is a new field of study that helps determine someone’s specific dietary needs based on their personal DNA. Once you know exactly what you should eat for optimal health, you’ll soon be able to use a food scanner to ensure that what’s on your plate meets those requirements. Medical Futurist takes a deep dive into what these devices will be able to tell us after analyzing the molecular makeup of any edible morsel.
Hacking Your Taste Buds and Drinking from the Air
Then there’s taste-hacking: the ability to further personalize every bite or sip. New Scientistdescribes an invention from Singapore called the Vocktail, which allows drinkers to trick their senses into changing how they believe a drink tastes.
And that won’t even be the weirdest way to drink in the future: British scientists are working on a levitating cocktail machine that will allow people to lick droplets right out of the air, and other UK engineers are working on a device that will “allow beer drinkers to personalise the ‘hoppiness’ of their beverage,” turning average brews into craft beers.
Back to (QR-Coded and Graphene-Enhanced) Nature
Even nature itself has the potential to be technologically enhanced. In L.A., a sushi company is printing QR codes on rice paper using edible ink; as reported in the Telegraph, “When scanned, these reveal where the fish was caught, current ocean stocks, and videos of the fishermen.”
And at Rice University, researchers have found a way to use lasers to transform the top layer of certain foods into a conductive material called graphene, which could one day enable us to carve barcodes, sensors, and other electronic bells and whistles directly into our meals. As Mark Wilson puts it in Fast Co. Design, “It’s fun to speculate on the possibilities… Think of a literal apple that puts 1,000 songs in your pocket. Or a birthday cake that lights its own candles.”
Though a dizzying array of high-tech innovations is seemingly hurtling toward us, not everyone is onboard for lasers and drones at the table. Many industry professionals point to a coming slowdown and a return to sustainability and conscientious consumption. A restaurant owner in Boston evoked a more mellow future that will see meals turn into a “completely shared experience.”
Forbes bridges the gap between high-tech and the personal touch: “In their most successful offerings, technology and digital platforms assist consumers in making a human connection with foods, beverages, and meals.”
That sounds like a future we can all believe in.
For dispatches from the restaurant of tomorrow, click here.
For the fabulous fine-dining future of 3D-printed food, head here.
For a glimpse of the food tech of the future, go here.
For a taste of what we’ll be drinking in 50 years, try here.
Video content provided by, and used with permission from:
Makr Shakr robotic bar system
Team Hindu – Robotic Bar servers
Team Lab – Sagaya Tokyo
I Eat Interactive Table
Kabaq augmented-reality food
is a writer, editor, cultural hipstorian [sic], and the author of Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture & Creativity. Her writing has appeared on Slate, Atlas Obscura, New York Post, Matador, Hyperallergic, Gothamist, Curbed, Brooklyn Magazine, Brooklyn Based, and more.