We’ve all been to a restaurant and had to wait an eternity for our food. Well, what if there were robots that could bring us our food? That’s right, robots in restaurants!

There’s a robot revolution in restaurants!

Yes, you read that right. As artificial intelligence takes over most industries globally, there has been immense interest shown in them by the restaurant industry as well. Accelerated by the pandemic, automated kitchens and robotic wait staff are being billed as the next big thing.

In 2021, in the thick of the pandemic, Mcdonald's, Starbucks, and Chipotle were only a few bigger companies to announce limited working hours in some of their outlets. This was attributed to a staffing crisis. Cooks and servers, and agriculture workers and workers in the meat production, there weren't enough people to hire.

Labor shortages have always plagued the food service industry, but the past two years have been particularly challenging. In the initial days of the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurant staff reported increased abuse from customers and managers and consistently depleting tips (which they depend on, owing to the low wages in the industry). Soon after, restaurants shut down, and employees left in droves to look for better opportunitiespossibly better shift schedules and good wages. Additionally, increased immigration enforcement contributed to restaurant worker shortages. In November 2021 alone, 1 million of the 4.5 million Americans who quit their jobs were restaurant and hotel workers, per Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

Staffing will be a constant issue in the food service industry, with industry leaders believing that the issue will continue in 2022 and beyond. While hiring needs to become competitive to deal with the labor shortage, there is also a requirement for innovative solutions. Resultantly, the utilization of technological solutions is on the rise. And it is not just limited to integrating automated point of sale and inventory management systems in the operations.

The latest trends in the food industry involve wheeled machines to take orders, deliver dishes and serve customers. Then, there are robotic arms to flip pizzas and automated kitchen setups to make bowl-based meals -- ensuring standardization of taste, temperature and quality. Besides dealing with the labor shortage, this has also ensured quick service and reduced waiting time, positively impacting restaurant businesses. It subsequently increases profits and, at the same time, frees up resources for important tasks. Moreover, it allows incredible efficiency, speed, accuracy, precision, and convenience.

The global market for autonomous delivery robots is expected to grow from USD 0.35 million in 2020 to USD 4.8 million by 2027, at a CAGR of 38.3%, per Market Statesville.

Integrating robots in restaurant operations started way back in the 1980s the first reported and documented instance being the Two Panda Deli in Pasadena, California, USA, in 1983. But for the longest time, the use of robots was more a gimmick to attract customers than these machines being really useful.

Many technological advancements, a crucifying pandemic, and almost four decades later, there's a strong resolve to create robots that can help. For example, Black Canyon, a coffee chain in Thailand, is a good example of a coffee chain that uses robots to make the best experience possible for customers. The chain leveraged the technology during the pandemic to avoid having physical contact between employees and customers. The PuduBot robot they use was created by Pudu Robotics and has become immensely popular in restaurants across Asia and Europe.

Built with an all-aluminum frame, PuduBot has multiple shelves. It moves on wheels. The LED display and interactive light strip help keep the operating instructions clear. After customers place orders at the counter, the staff members process them and put the order on PuduBot's shelves with further instructions like table number. The PuduBot follows the instructions efficiently and delivers the order. In addition, the in-built sensors in the robot automatically recognize any physical contact for a safer delivery.

Miso Robotics has developed automated kitchen assistants. With quirky names -- Flippy and Slippy -- these bots help in some of the trickiest jobs in the restaurant kitchens. Grilling, frying and drink-filling have become a cakewalk for back-of-the-house staff with these bot assistants. The best part is that these bots can potentially triple the profit margins of restaurants by almost 30% with faster and better output. Their compact design is a plus as one can easily fit them into small spaces.

Then, there is Cecilia. Designed by the company Cecilia.ai and currently functional at Aroma Espresso Bar, Cecilia is more than a regular bot-bartender. It can chat, listen and be funny; not to forget that it also mixes drinks, interacts with customers and serves them an unforgettable drink in less than 30 seconds.

Cecilia uses artificial intelligence and speech recognition to run the customers through the menu. Having a sleek and futuristic design, it can be installed anywhere. With the utilization of such bartending robots, pubs and bars have the potential to provide customers with an unmatchable experience. In addition, it has integrated secure payment methods and age verification technology.

Robots in action! How restaurants are using robots: Denny’s

Some of Denny's restaurants have integrated robots into their operations. The bots on wheels work as servers from the kitchen to guests' tables. It is not that the bots are taking care of the delivery from end to end. Instead, there is the involvement of a human staff, who takes orders, serves, refills drinks and takes mid-meal requests, but the robot is responsible for bringing food to the table; in some cases, the human staff even transfers the food from the robot to the table.

The experiment began at Denny's corporate headquarters during the peak of the covid pandemic when staff shortage and social distancing had severely disrupted the restaurant services. The experiment had the potential to not just keep employees at bay from getting infected but also ensure customer satisfaction.

However, the idea wasn't triggered by the pandemic. Bear Robotics, the company behind the development of these shelf-like bots wittily named Servi (first introduced in 2020) started working on the idea in 2017. Bear Robotics is a professional hospitality robotics company specializing in customer service and food processing for large restaurant establishments and major hospitality facilities such as hotels, hospitals, sports arenas and retirement communities.

The company was founded to bridge the gap between technological revolutions and implementing that technology into the service industry. The founders of Bear Robotics leveraged their knowledge from decades of work experience in the technology and hospitality industries to reconfigure current business operations by revamping broken workflows with robotic solutions that are faster, more efficient, user-friendly and budget-friendly. Still aggressively working on its technology, Bear Robotics promises to automate much of the extra work in the restaurant industry. It would reduce employee turnover, minimize errors and improve customer service.

Robots in action! How restaurants are using robots: GrubHub

Grubhub and Cartken announced a partnership in June this year to make robot delivery available at colleges across the United States. Grubhub, one of the leading mobile and online food-ordering and delivery platforms, has partnered with more than 250 colleges that enable students to integrate meal plans into their accounts with access to restaurants on and off-campus for delivery or pickup.

Cartaken is a robotics startup specializing in self-driving, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered delivery operations.

Grubhub piloted the technology at Ohio State University earlier this spring. According to a press release, the new robot technology will be available for students once they return to the campus for the new fall session.
As part of the partnership, Cartken builds on Grubhub's existing offerings. The partnership activating autonomous robot delivery seems like a perfect move, especially in college campus environments where driving is often a pain.

Robots in action! How restaurants are using robots: Chick-fil-A

At the University of California, Berkeley, the Kiwi robots are a familiar sight. These small robots on wheels that started service almost three years ago can easily navigate sidewalks and avoid pedestrians while delivering food to campus dorms and apartment buildings. The bot can seamlessly detect obstacles like people, vehicles and traffic lights to carry out successful and neat food deliveries.

Its functioning is easy- if a customer places an order with one of the restaurants participating in this robot experiment, they have the option of delivery via Kiwi. If they choose the robot as the delivery agent, one of the Kiwis -- almost knee-high robots with insulated, locking storage compartments will swing by the customer's place or close by to deliver food.

Chick-fil-A has partnered with Kiwibot to launch delivery testing procedures in the Santa Monica area in California. The bot uses cameras, lights, and speakers and delivers food packages with an average delivery time of 30 minutes and a delivery fee of less than $2. It is very low compared to third-party food delivery applications, costing up to $20 per order.

The Kiwi robots are semi-autonomous and need human monitoring to run efficiently. Having done more than 35,000 deliveries, Kiwi is now looking to expand to other universities and more partnerships.

Are restaurant customers ready to accept robots as staff?

In addition to some of the investments mentioned above, more are underway. For example, in August 2021, Los Angeles-based salad restaurant, Sweetgreen acquired Spyce -- a Boston-based startup that made waves as a spinout of MIT mechanical engineering students in 2015. The students developed Spyce and started serving food at the school's dining hall, culminating with the opening of Infinite Kitchens, a robotic kitchen. Sweetgreen has already announced opening a pick-up-only outlet this year, which hints that it will have a fully-automated back-of-the-house.

Then, there's the Nommi robot, a startup that uses automation to create bowl-based meals. Backed by Wavemaker Labs, a robotic incubator, Nommi is building a standalone robotic kitchen that can produce and dispense any grain, noodle or lettuce-based dish through a fully integrated cooking system to offer consumers a more efficient way to access healthy and fresh food. It partnered with restaurant brand C3 (Creating Culinary Communities) in November 2021. C3 is rolling out around 1,000 robotic kiosks on college campuses and real estate.

The restaurant industry has always relied on human labor, so introducing robotic or automated technology is bound to cause some hesitation among customers. But as we write this, we are sure more deals are being signed and sealed to make automation and robotics in the food industry a reality. And with more restaurants implementing technologies like self-service kiosks and robotic bartending counters, customers seem to be more accepting, especially after witnessing how convenient these changes can be. Early reactionary glimpses are encouraging to say the least.

In Deloitte's survey of 1000 American customers, 81% said they would order from an automated voice system in the drive-thru. Customers aren't hesitant to accept a robot or drone delivery either, as the number is up by 10% compared to 2020. At the same time, 54% would be okay ordering from a partially or fully automated kitchen.


With an increasing number of innovations in the restaurant business, new technologies have left customers a little wary, but that doesn't mean they won't accept the change. Some customers have been curious, others amused, and a few are critical. But, there have been many celebratory social media posts and news articles. It is a testament that robots in restaurants are being embraced.

It is not a surprise then that there has been a steady rise in the number of robots in the kitchen and delivery services in the last few years. Thanks to the pandemic for accelerating its use.

With interest increasing and the bots becoming more advanced, robotic companies are pumping in more money and believe these machines can significantly reduce restaurants' labor costs while providing better service. However, a fully autonomous robot capable of fulfilling a restaurant's operational requirements without human intervention is yet a far-fetched idea. Until then, it only makes sense to be happy with the assisting bots that have been quite helpful. So, here's to expecting more robot revolution!