House of Seafood operates the 24-hour machine at its Punggol Settlement outlet, where customers can also buy frozen pre-cooked crab, bak kut teh, chicken rice and nasi lemak.
After selecting a dish from a touch-screen menu—the crab comes with options of black pepper, chilli and salted egg yolk sauces—and making payment, the user will see an onscreen countdown of the time it will take to thaw and cook the crab in a built-in microwave. When ready it is dispensed in a box along with cutlery, a bib and plastic gloves.
The chain’s owner said he was forced to bring in the technology by slacking staff. “With a lack of staff and their unwillingness to work long hours, I need to transform my business to make it recession-proof with new technology," Francis Ng told Straits Times. "I cannot survive by just operating restaurants.”
Ng is planning a widespread rollout of more vending machines, bringing the total to 100 Ready-to-Eat Crab outlets across the island by March—so far at a cost of S$3.8m (US$2.7m).
The process alone cost S$1m to develop over three years in partnership with packaging companies in Germany and Taiwan, and involves cooking the crabs, blast freezing them to -50C in two minutes and then vacuum-packing them to be reheated later.
He said he was struck by the idea of a cooked-crab dispenser after his chain began selling microwave-ready pre-cooked crab in 2015, mainly to tourists.