At a café called Ratio in Shanghai, a revolving, jointed robot arm with two fingerlike prongs knows just how you like your latte. That’s because customers can order via a mini-app on social media platform WeChat, specifying the level of sweetness and choosing between coffee beans. Plus, because it syncs with your social media profile, the barista never spells your name wrong.

Robots in restaurants sound like a futuristic novelty. But in China, kitchen-side automation has long been routine for some restaurants, fast food chains, and cafeterias. What’s more, robotics are being used to standardize a centuries-old cuisine, potentially shaping the taste buds of future generations.

They also provide an attraction for curious crowds. At Ratio, founder Gavin Pathross told TechNode at a conference last November, many customers are lured in at first by the robotic barista, which also mixes cocktails. But customization, menu items and enhanced service keep them coming back.

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Bailey Hu

Bailey Hu is based in China’s hardware capital, Shenzhen. Her interests include local maker culture, grassroots innovation and how tech shapes society, as well as vice versa.