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Robotics makes its way into the near future of restaurant operations

Food prep, cooking, delivery main areas of advances

The future of robotics in the restaurant industry is becoming closer to a reality each day. With Nuro’s R2 robot having started delivery for Domino’s Pizza in April and Flippy the Robot under agreement to flip sliders for White Castle, clearly advances in robotics will propel the restaurant industry forward in a variety of ways.

Kitchen help

Flippy the Robot’s foodservice application is in the kitchen. Created by Miso Robotics, Flippy’s robotic arms are ideal for burger frying. Its advanced technology includes sensors, intelligence monitoring and predictive analytics in food demand, which will all contribute to enhanced food quality. Specializing in sliders,

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White Castle plans to deploy any displaced back-of-house team members into more customer-facing roles with the expectation of improving customer service. While it attracts industry and public attention due to its prominence in the restaurant kitchen, the company behind Flippy touts its ability to reduce the spread of pathogens during cooking and perfect the cooking process so foods are not undercooked. Both goals will likely appeal to an array of restaurant operators who can afford the investment.

The introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence in the kitchen holds a lot of promise, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this opportunity. Operators are grappling with difficulty staffing their restaurants, including securing kitchen staff. In addition, the promise of increased safety in the restaurant environment scores robotic applications an advantage as a potential long-term solution.

Human workers are still highly in demand, even in industries in which robotics have been widely-used. In manufacturing, there has been a dearth of skilled workers, to the tune of more than half a million open positions, according to Reuters. There’s little reason to believe that robotics will displace workers. Restaurants that are forward-thinking will see that human labor is best utilized in the front-of-house, interacting and engaging with customers.

The future of robotics in the restaurant industry is becoming closer to a reality each day. With Nuro’s R2 robot having started delivery for Domino’s Pizza in April and Flippy the Robot under agreement to flip sliders for White Castle
Robotics will soon become an every day part of food and restaurant industries. Photo by Nuro.

Autonomous delivery

Self-driving cars that can transport food from point A to point B will be a common sight in
the future. The pandemic has accelerated consumer desire for uber-convenient food delivery. Companies like Nuro, which created the R2 robot that Domino’s operates in Houston, Texas, are betting on such a future.

“What we’ve seen over the last few years is that people want everything delivered, faster and more affordably; hence Domino’s pilot with robotics firm Nuro,” said a Nuro spokesperson. “What was once snail mail shifted to 2-day delivery, then same day delivery, and increasingly even that isn’t fast enough. Historically, speed comes with cost, but Nuro is changing that. We believe that you should be able to get the things you need when you need them—whether it’s your groceries, pizza, produce or prescriptions—quickly and affordably.”

Restaurant diners will win in this new future. With on-demand restaurant food so desirable, but increasingly elusive as a profitable, human-delivered commodity, the restaurant industry will certainly be open to advances offered by robotics. Autonomous delivery offers a future of precise and speed-focused food at consumers’ fingertips. A question looms: is this solution scalable to independent operators, or an advancement that only the largest restaurant chains can afford?

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Nuro’s R2 has a significant and diverse range of applications. In 2020, the company deployed R2 to transport medicine, supplies, and food to COVID patients and medical staff in Sacramento and San Mateo at the height of the pandemic. Nuro has also entered into an agreement with CVS to deliver prescriptions.

Dish assembly

Boston-based Dexai Robotics is offering a solution for assembling dishes, including salads, in the restaurant kitchen. Alfred the robot can assemble food dishes in a highly hygienic manner, while tracking inventory in real time, according to the company. The device also stops operating when in close proximity to staff members, which helps promote employee safety in the kitchen.

Alfred has arisen as a viable solution for restaurant kitchens due to its pay-per-demand business model. A product of Anthony Tayoun and David Johnson, Alfred originated in Draper Laboratory, a research institute in Cambridge, Mass., and came into the spotlight, with a
debut at the 2019 Web Summit in Portugal.

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Consumer demand for speed, restaurant labor shortages and concerns for food safety are driving robotics to the top of the solution list. Whether for food preparation or food delivery, robotics is the next big presence in
restaurants worldwide.

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