Robots are taking over the food service industry. From robot bartenders to AI-powered drive-thru machines to fully automated restaurants, it seems that no part of the food service process is immune from the gradual transition to a robotic workforce.
That said, there have been some issues along the way. Some cases of “smart” drive-thru machines being not very smart at all have gone viral, and several users have expressed discomfort at the possibility of robots taking wage-earning jobs that people may need to survive.
That has not stopped companies from going forward with the robotic takeover, however. One such company is Denny’s, which announced in November 2021 that it would be employing robot servers owing to a partnership with Bear Robotics.
Now, a video of an interaction with one of these robot servers has gone viral.
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In a video with over 1 million views, TikTok user Caitlyn (@caitlyn5kids) shares a video from a Denny’s location that she claims was sent to her by her mother. In the video, a robot named Sunny arrives with several dishes, leading to confusion among the guests.
“Do you just take it?” asks one of the guests before slowly removing a plate.
As the guest reaches for their second plate, Sunny simply states “Enjoy” before continuing on its way.
“Oh, you almost had it! You’ve gotta be quicker than that,” says another guest at the table.
It’s unclear how Sunny, a Servi robot from Bear Robotics, determines when it’s time to pull away from the table. Bear Robotics did not immediately respond to Daily Dot’s request for comment about how the robots are controlled, though their website says that the machine has internal weight sensors to know when a delivery has been completed. The website also claims that the robot is “100% Self-Driving” using “an advanced LiDar sensor and multiple cameras.”
Back on TikTok, some users joked about the situation in the comments.
“Still better service than I’ve ever received at Dennys,” laughed a commenter.
“I was exactly like this when I waitressed the overnight shift at Dennys,” recalled another.
“Sunny ain’t got no time for slow pokes, she got orders to get out,” shared a third.
However, the conversation soon turned into a discussion about robot waiters in general.
Some were positive about the prospect of being served by robots.
“I kinda love this! I don’t want to associate with anyone at this point,” claimed one user.
“Nobody to complain about tips,” added a second.
Others were less excited about the idea.
“If I’m getting served by a robot then I’m not going to Dennys anymore,” alleged a user.
“Our waitress was almost crying when they were testing these,” recalled an additional commenter. “she’s worked there for 20 years without having to worry about job security till now.”
“I really miss the interactions with people! A lot of people are going to be out of work,” offered a further TikToker.
The Daily Dot reached out to Bear Robotics via phone and contact form, Denny’s via media contact form, and Caitlyn via email.
Update 8:55am CT January 31: In an email to the Daily Dot, Caitlyn provided more context about the video.
“My Ma and Papa (Helen & Nick) were visiting family in Miami, Florida…They stopped at a Denny’s for breakfast. While entering they immediately noticed the robots and thought they were very cool. My Ma wanted to record their first robot waiter experience and send it to us kids (all 5) showing us new technology,” she wrote. “As soon as my Papa spied the robot, Sunny, coming to their table with their food my Ma started recording. Sunny arrived, and they had no idea if they should take the food because other diners had the waitress tagging along slowly behind their robots & serving the food.”
“Sunny came out all alone to deliver their food (he’s very independent),” she continued. “After two plates were taken they thought Sunny was turning so they could reach the last platter easily, but Sunny straight up booked it. After Sunny returned to the kitchen, their human waitress took the remaining plate of food and carried it to my Ma.”
According to Caitlyn, her parents were confused by the robots and questioned their usefulness. “My Ma and Papa said it made absolutely no sense to have the robots [because] the waitresses were slowly following their robots to tables to serve the food. Too many cooks in the kitchen situation,” she detailed. “In the future, I think this would be beneficial when places are short-staffed. But why isn’t there a button to press after you’ve taken all your food?”
Update 10:01am CT, Feb. 4, 2023: In a phone call with Daily Dot, Bear Robotics co-founder Juan Higueros detailed that the company’s fleet of Servi delivery robots are, in fact, 100% self-driving and use a combination of LiDar sensors and cameras; in short, there is no human controlling the machine beside the initial input of where the food should be delivered.
In this case, Higueros noted, there was a glitch in the timer mechanism used to control when the robot was to return to its initial station. As all Servi robots can be updated remotely, Higueros claimed that this error was quickly found and patched across all machines.
Even with minor errors like these, Higueros stated that the robots have a 99% success rate. Furthermore, Higueros explained that the intention of the Servi machines is to be a tool for the existing workforce and is designed to ease a restaurant’s day-to-day operations.