The future is here, and it’s always moving forward. Those phrases describe Servi, the hospitality robot that lightens the load for servers by navigating crowded spaces to quickly transport food from kitchen to tableside.
Resembling a “Star Wars” droid but with the nimbleness of a Roomba, Servi twists and turns to maneuver just about anywhere, all while moving in the same direction as your business – forward.
A halo of blue light glows around the wheels hidden in the base as it rolls quietly at a brisk walking pace. Radar-like sensors and multiple cameras prevent it from bumping into tables, chairs or people, so it can carry up to 70 pounds of plated meals or other essentials to any spot mapped out in your dining room.
For foodservice operators, Servi generates labor and budget savings while increasing service capacity and table turns. For servers, it cuts out back-and-forth trips and reduces lifting, balancing and carrying food trays. For guests, Servi is welcome at the table, where it might sing “Happy Birthday” (in one of several languages) or become an Instagrammable photo op.
In short, Servi improves the customer experience.
“High-quality service is at the core of any restaurant experience,” said Juan Higueros, co-founder of Bear Robotics. “Servi is an assistant that gives employees more time to spend with guests.”
Getting the robot rolling
Higueros and his partners, John Ha and Fangwei Li, envisioned a future of robotic serving devices about six years ago, when they ran their own restaurant.
“We noticed that this was going to become a need. We saw some of these taxing and repetitive tasks like food running was a problem with our own small venue,” Higueros said. “We set out to build Servi to eliminate the constant back-and-forth of running food and the heavy burden of bussing tables so our people could dedicate more attention to the most important part of our business – the customer.”
Over the past six years, Servi has been tested, tweaked and perfected:
- It knows the floorplan, so it can make trips from the back-of-house to specific tables.
- It can automatically return to its home base or another location, such as the dishwashing area.
- It can be plugged into a standard wall outlet and holds a charge for 12 hours.
- It can avoid stationary and moving obstacles, and can roll through liquid and food spills.
- It’s water-resistant, easily cleanable and National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Certified.
“Food safety is so important in foodservice, and a lot of food equipment has to be NSF certified to be operating in a restaurant,” Higueros said. “That certification we worked very hard to achieve provides peace of mind for our customers that we have met the high standards set by NSF.”
Servi can be installed, programmed and operational in about 90 minutes of delivery. So far, about 6,000 Servi robots operate in establishments in 39 U.S. states, Japan, Korea and Singapore, with plans to expand in Canada, Australia, Southeast Asia and Europe. To date, Servi robots have traveled more than 582,000 miles and made more than 50 million deliveries to restaurant guests.
Operators see advantages
In an industry known for high turnover, Servi is a game changer.
“Repetitive tasks, over time, no matter who you are, just bores you. This leads to less passionate employees and very high turnover,” Higueros said. “Turnover is very expensive – replacing someone can cost thousands of dollars and many hours that should be dedicated to building your business instead of the juggernaut of interviewing, hiring, onboarding and retraining that has become a continual negative feedback loop for how things have been done in the past.”
When employees leave, the remaining team members pick up the slack and become stressed and vulnerable. Servi is a dependable, tireless, side-by-side assistant for service staff that also saves labor costs.
Most operators utilize a Servi subscription model that includes installation, setup and maintenance. Depending on how many hours a day Servi operates, its hourly cost averages less than $3, Higueros said. “These robots work all day without needing a break, so compared to the external pressures driving higher minimum wages or labor shortages being experienced in today’s working environment, it’s a no-brainer in terms of an immediate ROI for an operator.”
And Servi is more than just a task-oriented tool. It also provides usage data. Regular reports on robot deliveries give operators insights on busy times and traffic flow. This helps with menu and staffing adjustments to improve efficiency and the bottom line.
Employees experience benefits
Critics may argue Servi takes jobs from humans, but that’s not the robot’s intent.
“If you work in a restaurant or in any dining facility, you always have multiple tasks to perform,” Higueros said. “If you have seven or eight things to do all at once and you can take a couple of those tasks off of your plate to hand off to a robot like Servi to perform, your task load becomes more efficient and you start to have more latitude on tasks that you may be more passionate about to uplift your daily experience as well as the added attention you can bring to your customers.”
Employees that are given more creative freedom are more effective and passionate in their jobs, happier in their role, and less likely to leave. Engaged employees contribute to customer satisfaction. He cites one Florida location using Servi for the past year where better customer service resulted in a 28% increase in tip income for all staff.
At the same location, the robot traveled 25 miles in one week, saving servers lots of physical energy and manual labor.
“One server – a mom with three kids – told me she actually goes home feeling refreshed now,” Higueros explained. “Before, she felt worn out at the end of her shift. She said, ‘I can actually go home, have dinner with my kids, I’m actually there for them.’ To me, that’s what this is all about for us here at Bear Robotics … making an impact that leads to the betterment of the daily lives of thousands of workers in this industry.”