Taste Test: Australia’s First Pizza Vending Machine

The Pizza Gio is a new takeaway concept that delivers piping-hot pizzas straight from a vending machine to the customer’s mouth. It offers a choice of two “authentic” Italian artisan pizzas that are cooked inside the machine and dispensed in under three minutes. Yesterday, we checked out the debut model at Sydney’s Chatswood Westfield shopping centre. Here’s how it tasted.

For whatever reason, Australia has never really got behind the whole vending machine craze. While other counties’ vending machines spit out everything from smartphones to live bait, we’ve tended to stick to boring stuff like coffee, soft drinks and lollies.

Pompei’s Pizzeria is looking to change all this. Following two years of development, the Bondi-based restaurant rolled out Australia’s first pizza vending machine earlier this week. Needless to say, Lifehacker was among the first punters in line.

So how does it work? Customers select between two 11-inch pre-prepared pizzas on the Gio’s touch screen menu — margherita or hot salami. They then pay via cash or credit card and wait while the pizza is cooked.

The machine’s inbuilt oven hits temperatures of 300 degrees Celcius, which is just shy of optimum pizza-baking levels. However, the pizzas are actually pre-cooked halfway through in Pompei’s state-of-the-at ovens prior to entering the machine. After exposing the pizza to around three minutes of extreme heat, it’s sliced and dispensed through a dinky vending slot, ready to eat.

Going through the selection process couldn’t be simpler, although it’s important to know what you want from the beginning; once you’ve swiped your credit card, the “cancel” button stops working which means you’re stuck with whichever pizza you originally clicked on.

The entire process seemed to take slightly longer than the advertised three minutes, although the irresistible novelty factor more than made up for it. We suspect you could be in for a lengthy wait if there’s lots of customers in front of you though — unlike a real pizzeria, the Gio can only cook and dispense one pizza at a time. (Fortunately, the machine can hold 84 pizzas at once, so there’s little chance of missing out.)

After a handy countdown on the touch screen menu, the customer is presented with a freshly baked pizza as demonstrated in the clip below:

As you can see, the finished product comes served on a foil tray rather than a traditional pizza box. This makes it a bit of a pain in the bum to transport. We’re not sure how the Gio could solve this problem — a separate box dispenser, perhaps? — but as it stands, you’re pretty much forced to chow down at the point of purchase. Tch, eh?

In terms of taste, the pizza was a lot better than we were expecting. The dough was exceptionally crisp with a hot, doughy centre: it reminded me of a wood-fired pizza restaurant I used to frequent in Dubrovnick, which is pretty impressive for something shat out of a vending machine. The toppings were scant, although this was by design (I ordered the traditional margherita version.)

On the downside, the sauce was a little on the bland side which made me wish I’d plumped for hot salami instead. Also, whatever slicing mechanism the machine uses needs a complete overhaul — it’s currently useless. My pizza’s base had barely any cuts in it, which forced me to tear hunks off with my hands. This made for a needlessly messy meal.

So is there a future for automated pizzerias in Australia? We remain undecided. Despite arriving at Chatswood Westfield shopping centre just after noon, demand seemed pretty light for the Gio. The machine was attracting high levels of interest from passersby, but most contented themselves with taking a photo for their Instagram or Facebook feed. In fact, I was the only paying customer.

Part of this probably has to do with the asking price — $12 is quite a lot for a single-serve pizza, especially when it’s coming out of a vending machine, sight unseen. By contrast, Pizza Hut was selling $4.95 pizzas a few metres away, so why take a gamble? Plus, being in the middle of Westfield’s sprawling food court probably isn’t doing it any favours. We imagine the Gio would have a lot more success outside pubs or train stations.

If given the opportunity, I’ll probably give the Gio vending machine another go, if only to try the hot salami variety. But next time I’m bringing my own pizza slicer.

Score: 7/10


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