In the shadow of the Massachusetts State House, a new Dunkin’ location serves up coffee without any conversation.
The Canton-based chain opened a Beacon Street spot Tuesday that lets customers buy Dunkaccinos sans human interaction. Instead, cashiers in visors have been replaced by — you guessed it — digital kiosks. You can also order through the Dunkin’ app. (Orders still filter to a team of very human baristas.)
According to a statement from Dunkin’ president Scott Murphy, it’s “another innovative way to order and enjoy” all of the caffeinated wonders available to us. He also said that the automation “enhances speed and convenience.”
The Globe tested it out.
After walking into the small storefront, customers are greeted by two rectangular screens with the phrase “Donut Wait.” To the left stands a tabletop with straws and a trash can, plus a bright pink mobile pickup station. Employees fulfill the computerized orders behind the counter, where a wire rack of doughnuts still stands.
Of course, there is not one table or chair in sight.
The kiosks guide you to a Dunkin’ menu of iced coffees, doughnuts, avocado toast, and more. People can tweak the sizes, flavors, and dairy options — then pay with cash, card, or the DD app. The screen is responsive and intuitive.
I ordered a medium caramel iced coffee with cream and a chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles. But an employee ushered me toward him just a minute later to say they had no sprinkled doughnuts. “Do you want a regular chocolate frosted instead?” he asked.
So clearly, not a perfect system.
Other customers — a steady stream of tourists and construction workers — were pleased. Greg and Rachel Poaches of Michigan happily sipped on a coffee and strawberry Coolatta, respectively. They beamed and headed back out to enjoy their vacation.
“That’s the first automated coffee counter I’ve ever used,” Greg Poaches said. “Order. Add cream. Add sugar. No fuss.”
Anselmo Kennedy of Natick was annoyed that only one machine took cash payments. But his pumpkin spice latte, hot coffees, and pair of Boston Creme doughnuts arrived in no time. “Pretty good,” he said.
It’s not like Dunkin’ has started something stunningly unique. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and even AMC Theatres have hopped onto the kiosk trend in recent years. Starbucks is also in the midst of testing drive-thru-only locations with little to no sit-down service.
Dunkin’ contends the digitized effort streamlines their ordering process, but does not reduce labor costs, according to Restaurant Dive. A spokesperson told the website the number of Dunkin’ employees there “is consistent with restaurants utilizing traditional order-taking systems.”
I would wager that visiting a location closer to you — perhaps on Washington Street or by Government Center, less than five minutes from Dunkin’ Digital — would reap quicker results.
Don’t get me wrong: I like speed; I like efficiency. But personally, I’ll miss the 10-second chat with the stranger taking my order. I want to feel seen and smiled at. I want other humans to know that I like bacon on my breakfast sandwich.
The opening does prompt larger questions. Are we becoming obsolete? Is a robot takeover imminent? And should we all have listened to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang more closely when he said machines would soon give us the boot?
In the future, maybe baristas are out, too. If our Sweetgreen salads can be “robot-prepared,” as the Globe reported in August, why can’t the same go for coffee?
One woman, who declined to provide her name so as to not get involved in “Dunkin’ chaos,” said she is a “proponent of hiring real people and paying them fair wages.” She is nostalgic for the pre-pandemic days when the employees at this Dunkin’ location knew her go-to order. Now, she has to remind the machine every day.
A spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about the possibility of Dunkin’ opening more automated locations. At the moment, our matcha lattes, espressos, and Snackin’ Bacon can be ordered the old-fashioned way everywhere but at 22 Beacon St.