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Fast food, German-style

Dining out at Germany's fully automated "robot" restaurant

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Nuremberg

Germany likes to call itself the "Land of Ideas" - and over the centuries it has certainly had plenty of them. It was Germans who invented the aspirin, the airship, the printing press and the diesel engine.

But Germany has surely never produced anything quite as weird as the automated restaurant.

I say "restaurant" - but it actually looks more like a rollercoaster, with long metal tracks criss-crossing the dining area.

The tracks run all the way from the kitchen, high up in the roof, down to the tables, twisting and turning as they go. And down the tracks - in little pots with wheels fixed to the bottom - speeds food.

Supersonic sausages, high-pace pancakes and wine bottles whizzing down to the customers' tables with the help of good old gravity. One pot is spiralling down so fast, it looks like an Olympic bobsleigh (but it's only Bratwurst).

I wanted to come up with a complete new restaurant system
Michael Mack, restaurant owner

What's more, at the 's Baggers restaurant in Nuremberg, you don't need waiters to order food. Customers use touch-screen TVs to browse the menu and choose their meal.

You can even use the computers to send e-mails and text messages while you wait for the food to be cooked. But all this may not appeal to those who like traditional waiter service.

Meals on wheels

Up in the kitchen, it is man, not machine, that makes the food. They haven't found a way of automating the chef, just yet.

Everything is prepared from fresh. When it is ready, the meal is put in a pot and given a sticker and a colour to match the customer's seat.

Then it is put on the rails and despatched downhill to the correct table. Manna from heaven, German-style.

The restaurant is the brainchild of local businessman Michael Mack.

"I wanted to come up with a complete new restaurant system," Michael tells me, "one that would be more efficient and more comfortable".

Replacing waiters with helter-skelters and computers is fun for the customers. It also makes financial sense for the restaurant.

Food comes down from the kitchen
A plate of food whizzes down from the kitchen

"You can save labour costs," explains restaurant spokesperson Kyra Mueller-Siecheneder.

"You don't need the waiters to run to the customers, take the orders, run to the kitchen and back to the guests."

The restaurant has not completely done away with the human touch. There are still some staff on hand to explain to rather bemused customers how to use the technology.

But what do the punters here think? Do Germans really have the appetite for automated mealtimes?

"It's another art for eating. I like it!" one man raves.

"It's more for young people than old people," a woman tells me. "My mother was here yesterday and she needs my son's help to order."

Watching all this food raining down on the restaurant makes me ravenous. I decide that it is my turn to test the system. I order steak and salad on the computer and wait for it to appear. A few minutes later, a pot glides down to my table with my "fast food" - and it is delicious.

As I finish the meal and prepare to leave, one final thought crosses my mind. An automated meal doesn't only save the restaurant money, but the customer, too.

After all, in a restaurant without waiters, there is no need to leave a tip....

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