Restaurant Robotics: How Robots Are Changing Foodservice

Restaurant robotics is a term that is used to describe the use of technology in restaurants to automate certain tasks. This can include anything from using automats to take orders to use robots to cook food. Some people view restaurant robotics as a way to reduce labor costs, while others see it as a way to improve the customer experience. No matter which side of the argument you fall on, there is no doubt that restaurant robotics is changing the game for both restaurateurs and customers alike.

How Robots Are Changing the Restaurant Landscape

Restaurant margins have been under pressure for years. Already in 2019, restaurants were not able to pass inflationary costs on to consumers (back then, the average restaurant price increase was 3.1% while labor cost was growing at 3.8% and food at 5%). And in 2021 restaurant price increases were 4.5% compared to labor costs growing by 8.9%. In addition: $235 billion are paid annually in restaurant wages in the U.S. and the foodservice industry has a $95 billion annual turnover cost.

In this context, some estimates indicate robotics can save between 30% and 70% on labor cost for restaurants. And even though there are only 1 service robots for every 1,500 restaurants (globally, as of 2022), many are coming out of the prototype phase and can do almost anything a human can. Some of the capabilities for monotonous jobs are closer than most people think and penetration is going to happen faster than delivery.

We believe restaurant robotics will soon be as ubiquitous as the POS and commercial dish machine. This is the time to invest.

Donut chart with restaurant positions in the U.S by number of people

Leading Restaurant Robotics Companies

While the use of robots has tripled in the last decade across industries like electronics, automotive, machinery, and food manufacturing; foodservice has lagged behind.  

Bar Chart comparing 2010 and 2020 number of industrial robots globally and CAGR

As technology advances, restaurant robots are becoming an increasingly popular option for businesses all sizes. Whether you’re looking to purchase your first robot or are interested in learning more about the benefits of this restaurant technology, this list is a good starting point for the market landscape.  

Robotic Arms in Restaurants

Ally Robotics Wants to Make Robots More Affordable

Ally Robotics is a startup trying to make robots affordable and easy to use. Ally has partnered with Miso to supply the robotic arms for Flippy (with $30 million in potential revenue committed, according to the company), with a potential to reduce Flippy’s costs by 30%. The company is raising a series A as of July 2022.

Nala Robotics Competing in Robotic Arms

Nala is a robotic chef able to handle a multitude of cuisines. The AI-based robotic arm has been tested to make pizzas, wings, pasta, bowls, French fries, and more.

Flippy Is One of the Most Popular Restaurant Robots

Pasadena-based robotics company Miso Robotics is behind Flippy, the robotic arm that is shaking up the restaurant industry. Equipped with sensors and artificial intelligence, Flippy can handle fryers and flip burgers – tasks that are traditionally done by human cooks. The result is a faster and more efficient kitchen, with miso claiming that their robot can prep food twice as fast and increase throughput by 30%. The initial cost of Flippy2 starts at $3,000 per month. As of mid-2022, the company has raised more than $50 million from investors, mostly via crowdfunding.

Bartender Robots in Restaurants

Makr Shakr is One of the First Robot Bartenders

Makr Shakr It is a robotic solution for the cocktail industry, based in Turin, and presented in 2013 by google I/O, when the robotic arm had a cost of $110 thousand. The company partnered with Royal Caribbean cruises.

Cecilia.ai is an AI Powered Drinks Vending Machine

Cecilia.ai is a robot for the preparation of cocktails with interactive, conversational AI. Cecilia looks like a vending machine and it’s being used by companies like Microsoft.

Salad-Maker Robots in Restaurants

Chowbotics Salad-Maker Robot Sally Was Also Shut Down

Restaurant robots have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to reduce labor costs and improve efficiency. One of the most famous restaurant robots is Chowbotics’ Sally, a salad-maker robot that costs around $30 thousand. Hospital and university campuses are some of the most common locations for Sally units, as they are available 24 hours a day. However, the company was acquired by Doordash in 2021, and it was announced that operations would be shut down by mid-2022. The last known valuation of the company was $46 million (in 2018).

Spyce Was One of the Pioneers in Restaurant Kitchen Robotics

Spyce was founded in 2015 and acquired by Sweetgreen in 2021. Spyce had an automated restaurant in the Boston area, capable of cooking bowls with minimal employee supervision.

Food Delivery Robots Are Part of a Fast-Growing Category

Globally, delivery robots are projected to grow at a 30% CAGR. These are some of the most successful food delivery robotic companies.

Starship is the Largest Fleet of Last-Mile Food Delivery Vehicles

Starship Technologies is one of the last-mile delivery startups, operating autonomous delivery vehicles in the U.S. and UK and using machine learning to improve their navigational skills. The company has about 1.7k units in operations (as of 2022) and raised a total of $200 million, with $57 million coming from the European Investment Bank.

Nuro Valued at $8.6 Billion

Nuro food delivery robots drive in the open road and have chill and heated compartments. Nuro autonomous vehicles have been piloted by Domino’s , Chipotle, Kroger, Walmart, 7-Eleven, and FedEx. The robot is call R2 and can drive on public roads in some states. Nuro raised $600 million in 2021 at an $8.6 billion valuation — higher than the market cap of Wendy’s, Shake Shack, and Sweetgreen, combined.

Serve Robotics was Divested from Postmates

Serve Robotics was Postmates last-mile delivery vehicle, founded in 2017 and spun off in 2021. The robot uses Lidar sensors to map and navigate without human intervention. Some of Serve investors are Uber, 7-Eleven, and Delivery Hero’s CVC.

Kiwibot Autonomous Robots to Grow by 6x

Kiwibot was launched in 2017 and has currently a fleet of around 200 robots and mainly operates in campuses. In 2022 the company raised $7.5 million in a Pre-Series A round (bringing the total funding to $14 million) and announced a deal with Sodexo to 6x its fleet. 

Alibaba Group Developed Xiaomanlv Robots

Xiaomanlv Robots are driverless vehicles delivering products in China. They have a fleet of 500 autonomous robots and are mainly present at university campuses in China.

Popular Robot Waiters

BellaBot from Pudu Robotics

In today’s fast-paced world, efficiency is key. That’s why more and more businesses are turning to robots to help with tasks like product delivery. One such robot is the Bellabot, developed by Pudu Robotics. This little robot can deliver up to 400 products a day, making it a valuable asset for busy bars and restaurants. The bellabot costs $17,000 per unit.

Matradee Is a Leading Player in the Restaurant Robot Server Category

Matradee is a restaurant robot server developed by Richtech. It facilitates internal delivery, allowing more interaction between human personnel and customers. The company is located in Austin Texas. Matradee can open kitchen doors and takes food from the kitchen to the table, commanded remotely with a smartwatch.

Servi Robot (Bear Robotics)

Servi is a restaurant robot responsible for serving drinks, food running, and table bussing. It serves as a personal assistant to staff. Some of the restaurant chains using Servi are Chili’s and Denny’s. Bear Robotics closed an $81M Series B funding round in March 2022, led by IMM Investment Corp.

SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper Takes Orders

Pepper is a robot that detects emotions. This robot is part of Softbank’s portfolio. In the coffee shop Pepper Parlor (in Japan), the robot is being used to take orders and entertain guests with games and fortune telling. The robot was also being used in a Scottish grocery store in a guest-facing role but was fired for directing people to the alcohol aisle when they asked for directions.

Pizza Robots Disrupting the Category

The global pizza industry is worth $160 billion. After delivery disrupted the category a few decades ago (the exact time frame depending on the geography), it’s about to be disrupted again. These are some of the pizza robots that can do so.

Picnic, a Pizza Robot

Picnic is a restaurant that sells pizza which are prepared by a production line that uses robotics and artificial intelligence. It is located in Seattle. The cost ranges between $3,500 and $5,000 per month. In 2021, the Series A raised $20.5 million. 

Piestro Automates Pizza Making

Piestro robots make pizza at a lower cost. The company has $580 million in pre-orders (as of 2022). The assembly line takes 3 minutes to cook a pizza.

Zume Pizza Was One of the First Foodservice Robotics Start-Ups, it Failed

Zume was a company that was at the forefront of this trend, developing pizza-making robots that could quickly and efficiently churn out pies. The company raised hundreds of millions of dollars in funding (including $375 million from Softbank) and was said to be valued at over $4 billion at one point. However, it ultimately struggled to find a sustainable business model and ended up pivoting to sustainable packaging. The story is often used as a cautionary tale for how not all robotic companies are investable or have the right strategy to succeed in gaining accounts.

The Autonomous Fast-Food Store from Hyper

Hyper is a hyper-automated restaurant robot, capable of cooking pizza, burgers, bowls, salads, and delivering boulangerie and ice cream. It can increase ROI by 4x over what a normal store would have. Hyper can make 50 pizzas per hour, has cold storage for dough, and two robotic arms.

Pazzi Robotics Wants to Be the Future of Fast Food

Pazzi is a restaurant-in-a box concept, an autonomous restaurant that shows how the food is cooked. All the guest has to do is order and collect their meal. Pazzi uses machine learning to perform tasks without human intervention, able to make 10 pizzas simultaneously. 

We Help Accelerate the Future of Foodservice

Aaron Allen & Associates has helped guide some of the companies on and off this list as they develop their go-to-market strategies, evolve their features and future use cases, contemplate how to communicate their value proposition to investors and raise capital, providing introductions to key chain executives and open the door for joint venture opportunities. Whether you’re a chain operator seeking to improve efficiency with robotics and automation, or an inventor that’s innovating a new way forward, or an investor seeking to partner on ways to Fund the Future of Foodservice (TM), get in touch with us at AA&A or AACP.

Restaurant Robots in Foodservice Chains

Several chains are starting to bet on robotics and automation through R&D, corporate venture capital, or running pilots and tests with foodservice technology companies. These are some of the restaurant chains betting on robotics.

Kitchen United Piloted Kiwibot

The kiwibot is an autonomous delivery vehicle that has been tested by ghost kitchen Kitchen United.

Domino’s Pizza Has Been Testing Nuro for Three Years

Domino’s started a partnership with last-mile autonomous delivery robot Nuro back in 2019. Nuro is being tested in Houston.

800 Degrees Partnering with Piestro

The fast-casual pizza chain has announced plans to deploy more than 3,500 pizza robots over the next five years. 

Costco Is Using Automation to Put the Sauce in its Pizza

Costco uses a robot for the application of sauces in perfect conditions to maintain the quality of the product. It has the ability to produce 350 pizzas per hour.

Royal Caribbean Has Robotic Arms Prepping Cocktails

Royal Caribbean has been employing Makr Shakr in its Bionic Bar since 2016.

WhiteCastle Piloting Restaurant Robot Flippy

WhiteCastle was one of the first high-profile pilots for Miso Robotics hamburger flipper robot. After less than six months of piloting the robot at a Chicago location, the burger chain announced the robot will be in 100 of its restaurants by the end of 2022. 

Chipotle Invested in Self-Driving Vehicle Nuro and is Testing Miso Robotics Flippy

Chipotle is giving a number of signals of its belief in the future of robots in restaurants.

In 2021 it invested in Nuro, an autonomous delivery company that could be used for last-mile food delivery. Nuro has been also backed by SoftBank and T. Rowe Price Associates.

In early 2022 Chipotle also partnered with Miso so that the robotic arm could help the back-of-house by frying tortilla chips.

Buffalo Wild Wings is Also Testing Robots for Restaurants

Flippy is not the only restaurant robot out there but it’s certainly the most famous one. Part of that comes from getting high-profile pilots. BWW is testing Flippy to fry its wings.

Denny’s Tested a Restaurant Robot Server

Breakfast chain Denny’s tested robot servers to dispense orders back in 2021. The robot was named Janet.

Big Band Pizza in Atlanta is Employing Pepper

A pizzeria in Atlanta employs Pepper robot hostess to great people and robot Amy to serve the food.

Pizza HQ Using Robotics to Automate the Pizza-Making Process

Pizza HQ is a pizzeria using an automated pizza production line with a capacity of 500-1,500 pies per day, located in New Jersey. It opened in 2022 and it’s using Picnic robots.

If you are a robotics or automation company looking to grow into the foodservice industry, we can help.

The Benefits of Using Robots in Restaurants

Some of the advantages of using robots in restaurants are:

  1. More accurate than humans, fewer recipe mistakes
  2. Consistent quality
  3. Reduce food waste
  4. Employ less labor
  5. Improve throughput and speed
  6. Better safety and sanitation
  7. Works 24×7 without taking breaks
  8. Analytics allow for improving efficiency and food quality
  9. Can free humans from jobs that are boring and repetitive 

There are many robotic companies and not all of them are investable. If you are an investor thinking of getting into foodservice technology, we can help.

The Challenges of Implementing Robotics in Restaurants

While automation can help reduce labor costs, it is not yet a straightforward application to restaurant kitchens and front-of-house. Because of the myriad of activities in the kitchen (and in restaurants in general), robots need to be specifically designed to be able to handle a variety of tasks, from frying to seasoning to preparing drinks to taking orders from guests. Additionally, robots can’t adapt to changing situations and are really bad at reading human emotions, which means they still have to work under human supervision.

Restaurant robots are still costly, and though most companies are starting to make accurate risk-benefit calculations (based on labor savings and opportunity costs), they remain out of the budget for most independent restaurants.

The Restaurant of The Future Is Closer Than You Think

Even though robotics is still not a significant piece of the foodservice industry yet, it is starting to mature. After the COVID-19 pandemic and with factors such as increasing labor costs and SaaS allowing to lower the initial investment, we can expect restaurant robotics to boom over the next few years.

The largest employer in the world of restaurants will no longer be McDonald’s, it will be companies that control the robots. It’s happening much faster than most people realize.

Robots could take those tasks that are boring, dangerous, and time-consuming so that people don’t have to do them. However, as of 2022 we estimate robots wages (measured by SaaS payments) do not exceed $10 million globally.

Robots can help with back-of-house and front-of-house. Back-of-house: handling fryers, flipping burgers or steaks, cleaning, prepping ingredients, preparing drinks, and more. Front-of-house: greeting guests, taking orders, delivering food to the table.

Several restaurant chains have piloted robots on their premises. Some of the most high-profile ones are WhiteCastle, Chipotle, Domino’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Royal Caribbean cruises, and Kitchen United (ghost kitchens).

There are many restaurant robot companies. Some are: Nala, Miso, Picnic, Cecilia.ai, Piestro, and Makr Shakr.

The cost of restaurant robots can start at around $1,500-$3,000 monthly. Most companies charge an initial installation fee as well that could range in the $20,000-$30,000.

About Aaron Allen & Associates

Aaron Allen & Associates is a global restaurant consultancy specializing in brand strategy, growth and expansion, and value enhancement. We have worked with a wide range of clients including multibillion-dollar chains, hotels, manufacturers, associations, and prestigious private equity firms.

We help clients imagine, articulate, and realize a compelling vision of the future, align and cascade resources, and engage and enroll shareholders and stakeholders alike to develop multi-year roadmaps that bridge the gap between current-state conditions and future-state ambitions. Learn More.