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Robots to the Rescue?

Automation is infiltrating the hospitality industry. Why experts say that's a good thing for workers, restaurant owners and the franchise industry as a whole.

By Michael Breedlove1851 Contributor
Updated 8:08AM 05/18/22

With restaurants still reeling from the historic worker shortages and rising labor costs that arose during the pandemic, they're getting a helping hand from an unlikely source — robots.

recent article from QSR Magazine detailed how robots are being rolled out in restaurants amid the “Great Resignation." Not only are these machines helping fill the seismic gap in the workforce, but they’re also making things easier on their human counterparts.

Among those quoted in the story is Carlos Gazitua, creator of Sergio's Cuban franchises in South Florida. During the pandemic he outfitted several of his restaurants with Servi robots to augment his thinly stretched staff. Servi, which was created by a team of restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, uses a mix of cameras and laser sensors to perform myriad tasks, including bringing food to tables and taking dirty dishes back to the kitchen. They can be leased for around $1,000 a month.

“At first, the servers were a bit nervous because they didn't understand if it would work,” says Gazitua. “But after two hours they loved it because they don't have to be running back and forth. They now have more time with the guest and can pick up more tables.”

Sergio's is among the estimated 5,000 restaurants in the U.S. now employing robots. In addition to Servi, customers might also encounter Sally, a salad-making cyborg by Chowbotics, or, an interactive bartender that can mix 17 different drinks and even deliver a bad joke or two.

There are numerous advantages of employing robots in the hospitality industry. First, there is the sheer productivity, as bots can work 24/7 and don't require sick days., for instance, can make up to 120 drinks an hour. There's also the novelty factor, which often ups a restaurant’s general appeal, particularly with younger guests.

And it's not just small chains and boutique operations turning to automation. Industry giants such as KFC, Taco Bell and Domino's have all introduced robotics in recent years to help prepare and deliver food. Another fast-food titan, White Castle, recently announced plans to add fry-cooking robots at 100 stand-alone locations nationwide.

According to White Castle VP Jamie Richardson, White Castle vice president, the goal isn’t to replace humans with robot counterparts. In an interview with CNN, Richardson explained that by automating some of the less desirable jobs, workers can focus more on hospitality and customer service. Gazitua echoed those sentiments in the QSR article, saying that Servi robots have proven beneficial by freeing up the staff to focus on customers.

 “We keep the servers rocking out, getting the tables and doing the hospitality, and [the robots] have made a major impact for our guests,” says Gazitua. “It has helped, and the servers definitely feel more pride when they serve because they’re creating a better experience for the guest.”