Robots have evolved from prognosticator predictions to a seat at pre-service shift meetings. But they’re far from a front-of-house takeover.
“Long before the pandemic, it was really hard to fill shifts and maintain full staffing on a daily basis,” says Jacob Brewer, chief strategy officer of Miso Robotics. “COVID absolutely exacerbated the problem, but make no mistake, this problem was here long before it and will persist long after. These are roles going unstaffed every day, and robots are simply aiming to assist those who are showing up to make their days and nights sustainable.”
The impetus to implement robots and the automation they bring addresses the labor shortage and ultimately the bottom line. But they are not a panacea to the one million-plus individuals who have exited hospitality since the start of the pandemic. Not all restaurants have experienced success. Robots work best when their presence fits the concept and they help alleviate, not create, problems.
It’s “a ripe time for innovation to make its mark on the future of the restaurant industry,” says Juan Higueros, co-founder and CEO of Bear Robotics, creator of the robot, Pudu.
LA DUNI IN DALLAS
Started: June 2021
“You can’t replace what you don’t have,” says owner Espartaco Villar. “There is no one to hire.” Bots have allowed La Duni to remain open and lucrative.
→ Robot: Temi
Responsibilities: Host duties such as welcoming guests, managing guest flow, delivering food and beverages to tables and checking in with diners
Cost: $45 monthly
“They replace tedious repetitive functions,” Villar says, adding that the robots assist his current staff, which means a less laborious shift for the humans.
→ Robot: Pudu
Responsibilities: Does the heavy lifting of delivery, such as the physical labor of expo and bartending positions
Cost: $180 monthly
THE XPOT IN CHICAGO, LAS VEGAS AND LOS ANGELES
Started: Fall 2021
“The human component will never be replaced. The robots are there to lighten the pressures of the more mundane tasks,” says Jerry Ngo, events and marketing director.
→ Robot: Bella
Responsibilities: Similar to runners, delivering food to guests; with its feline facade, the robot purrs when petted
Cost: $33 daily
“Our presentations are very intricate and heavy,” Ngo says. “These robotic server assistants relieve the main servers from a lot of heavier lifting, so that they could better focus on walking our guests through their culinary journey.”
The added benefit has been the marketing, Ngo says. “The draw and hype of the robotic server assistants has more than paid themselves off across all our venues. Robots, when priced correctly, are actually reasonable.”
Robot assistants aimed at automation and easing labor woes in the back and front of the house are expected to grow and improve. Companies expect more door-to-door deliveries in high-density urban areas, especially college campuses (see related story) as well as drones in suburban communities.
● Sergio’s, Miami and Florida-wide
Bot: Servi, serving bot by Bear Robotics
Cost: $999 monthly implemented in late spring 2021
● CaliBurger, Pasadena, California and nationwide
Bot: Flippy, kitchen/cooking bot by Miso Robotics
Cost: Corporation-wide $3.1 million investment implemented in 2018
● Buffalo Wild Wings, nationwide
Bot: Wingy, kitchen/cooking bot by Miso Robotics
Cost: Not yet announced; implementation slated for later in 2022; currently in beta phase
ROGER BAR AND RESTAURANT, AT THE AMESWELL HOTEL IN MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA
Started: June 2021
“Over the course of one shift alone, employees are likely to have up to 30% extra time to tend to the guests,” says Jacky Li, the food and beverage manager.
Robots: Servi Robots Walle and Eva
Responsibilities: Checking on tables, running food to guests, side work
Cost: About $1,000 monthly
“Our mission is to use this technology to enhance the staff’s job, not replace them,” Li says. “As much as I love using our robots, it is simply a tool to help us provide the best quality of service to our guests and would not be possible without our staff.”