When Kunihiko Tanaka opened his first Kura restaurant in 1995, he used conveyor belts to cut down on labour costs. That idea wasn't new, as conveyor belts have been used since the 1950's. But as he grew more focused on efficiency, he started placing managers in a sorta command centre, instead of at each restaurant. This way, a small group of managers could watch a video link of the restaurants and see everything happening in all the stores.
Now, Kura has moved to even more automation in their restaurant:
Diners use a touch panel to order soup and other side dishes, which are delivered to tables on special express conveyor belts. In the kitchen, a robot busily makes the rice morsels for a server to top with cuts of fish that have been shipped from a central processing plant, where workers are trained to slice tuna and mackerel accurately down to the gram.
Diners are asked to slide finished plates into a tableside bay, where they are automatically counted to calculate the bill, doused in cleaning fluid and flushed back to the kitchen on a stream of water.
All that efficiency adds up to affordable sushi and people who keep coming back, which means huge profits even in lean times. [NY Times]