Everyone’s favorite bathroom read, Automatic Merchandiser online, today reported on the growing trend of point-of-sale kiosks in coffee shops: Caribou Coffee Installs Point Of Sale Kiosks In Stores To Service Customers Faster @ Vending Market Watch News at AMonline.com. (Also here.)

Yes, Caribou Coffee, that Minneapolis, MN-based chain that’s taking over the Midwestern U.S. by following a path paved by Starbucks, has been experimenting with more automated ways to collect and process customer coffee orders more quickly. Can the return of the Automat be far behind?

Or let’s even take things a step further. We already have the likes of Starbucks resorting to a global strategy of idiot-proof push button Verismo machines to maintain their store growth with an ever larger, ever less-skilled workforce. Is it hard to envision a world where the customer bypasses the barista entirely — pushing their own button on a touch-screen kiosk to order their double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato?

As milk frothing also becomes more automated, some major chains could eliminate the barista entirely — directing customers towards a self-service model. Like the soda fountains at some fast food chains and movie theaters, it’s not just gas stations anymore. “Here’s your cup… have at it.”

Of course, what’s motivating this is the drive to streamline sales and customer turnover. Undoubtedly, there will always be a market for better service and higher quality, but volume-based businesses are largely going to compete through their optimization of product delivery.

A related article in today’s Salt Lake Tribune documented the case of what happens when Starbucks expats, tired of the obsessive focus on sales, start their own coffee shop with an emphasis on the customer in mind … and then a Starbucks moves within 30 feet of their new shop: Coffee & Cram.

UPDATE: Aug. 1, 2013
Seven years later, we haven’t really advanced this idea any: Espresso-Brewing Robots Could Replace Artisan Baristas – PSFK. The only thing different is that the people behind Briggo Coffee Haus are pretending like nobody ever thought of it before (let alone years before they even existed).