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When Businesses Get TOO BOLD: The Hamburger Vending Machine Edition

a cartoon of a hamburger vending machine

According to history, the very first vending machines appeared in London in 1880. These coin-accepting machines allowed passersby to purchase envelopes, stamps, and post cards. Soon thereafter, they appeared in the U.S. and offered even greater varieties of offerings. Gumballs, beverages, and eventually cigarettes were popular items. But in the last few decades, innovations have been relatively scant when it comes to vending machines. Sure, most now accept credit cards, and the choices have expanded. But a true revolutionary change to these century-old devices has been lacking… until recently.

Popping all over the world are vending machines that offer much more advanced food options. In recent years, pizza vending machines appeared as well as pastry and cupcake ones. But the most curious one now involves a vending machine that offers customers cheeseburgers. Equipped with all the advances in modern robotics, these hamburger vending machines are described as “chefs-in-a-box.” Companies even go as far as to claim their vending machine hamburger are among the healthiest and most gourmet. But have these companies taken things a bit too far? Doesn’t the whole concept of getting a premium hamburger from a machine sound a bit cheesy?

Getting to Know the Chef

“Lettuce” step back and examine just how these hamburger vending machines work. While a few companies are now making vending machine hamburgers, Roboburger has received the most press. Based on New Jersey, their hamburger vending machines are roughly 12 square feet in size and have a touch screen. Inside, these boxes contain refrigeration systems, a griddle, and even a self-cleaning dishwashing system. In essence, they are self-contained and essentially autonomous. All they basically require are service staff to periodically come by and replace ingredients and ensure proper operation.

As far as preparing your vending machine hamburgers, the steps involved are quite simple. First, a robotic arm places a patty on the griddle, and then flips it over to cook both sides. Next, the machine toasts the buns before then adding condiments to one side. These ingredients are subsequently assembled, perhaps no different than a fast-food worker. And finally, it is placed in a cardboard box and delivered to the customer, anxiously awaiting outside. In considering the hamburger vending machine from this perspective, things sound pretty basic. But knowing the process hardly whets one’s appetite for these mechanically assembled sandwiches.

Between the Buns

So, having a robot hamburger vending machine for your chef doesn’t sound that great. But what if your vending machine hamburgers had premium ingredients? Would you still have a beef? For Roboburger, their vending machine hamburgers contain only grain-fed Angus beef from cattle that have never had antibiotics or hormones. Their products also come with the option of adding Wisconsin cheddar and Heinz ketchup. And they also use potato buns to provide a mare tasty experience. Plus, customers can even customize their burgers by choosing to have the condiments or cheese included.

a delicious-looking burger that I will eat
This is a picture of a delicious burger… that was NOT dispensed from a hamburger vending machine!

While a hamburger vending machine does allow some personalized options, it’s hardly the same as “having it your way.” The only condiments offered are mustard and ketchup, and the only cheese choice is with it or without it. At the same time, Roboburger doesn’t offer different types of patties. Some vending machine hamburgers do offer plant-based burger options, which might appeal to some. (To read more about these meatless burgers that are an affront to carnivores everywhere, check out this Bold story.) But the same issue remains when it comes to the ingredients. Choice matters as does quality components. And while Angus grain-fed beef sounds great, having it sit inside a vending machine waiting for preparation loses some appeal.

Taking Fast Food Too Far

For hamburger vending machine companies, the concept sounded quite good at first. These machines solve the problem of having to find fast-food workers during the Great Resignation. They take automated payments and can be located in a variety of places for low cost. And at least some, like Roboburger have been recognized as being safe by public health and safety entities. But the idea of getting a gourmet burger from a vending machine just sounds distasteful. From a literal perspective, vending machine hamburgers might be on a roll. But figuratively speaking, nothing could be farther from the truth.


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