Chili’s is expanding its robot servers to more restaurants. Here’s why.

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If “The Jetsons” was set in modern times, George, Jane and their family might visit a Chili’s instead of the Spaceburger Drive-In.

They would feel right at home, after all, as Chile recently expanded the rollout of the Rita robot to 51 restaurants, in addition to the 10 where the technology was already being tested. Rita, created by Bear Robotics, can act as a sort of de facto waiter, guiding guests to their tables, carrying food, busing, and even singing “Happy Birthday.”

And while this kind of automation is rapidly proliferating in the restaurant industry due (in part) to historic labor shortages, Wade Allen, senior vice president of innovation at parent company Brinker International

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said Rita’s pilot was not performed due to the “macroeconomic situation”.

“We tested it for a good part of a year and a half to two years. It just took us time to harden the device for restaurants and make sure it works with top level service for our team members and our guests,” he said during a recent interview. “Now is the time to take the next phase and roll it out to 51 more restaurants.”

Chili’s expansion signals the channel’s vote of confidence in Rita’s early performance, particularly in two metrics – usage and error rate.

Allen said Rita produced “great utilization rates” based on whether employees were using and engaging with the technology. Adding seemingly frivolous features such as “singing” provides more opportunities and usage rates above 30%.

On the error side, Allen said Rita worked flawlessly more than 99% of the time.

“Both of these metrics are strong enough to show we have an opportunity,” Allen said.

The technology has also turned investors’ heads, as Bear Robotics recently secured a $81 million funding roundbringing his total to $117 million.

Of course, such technology could be seen as an unnecessary bell and whistle for customers. And, indeed, there is a risk here because most customers said they prefer to interact with staff even as this type of customer-facing technology increases. That said, Rita complements the staff, creating a better opportunity for them to interact with customers, according to Allen.

“Rita’s engagement with guests is fun, but more importantly, it makes for more efficient and easier experiences for team members,” he said. “We’re in a tough macro environment and we can’t ignore her. But she’s supposed to enhance the experience for team members, not replace them. It’s tough being in hospitality and Rita can compensate for some of these challenges by loading 50 pounds of plates and carrying them to a six-tray table 35 to 40 times a night.

Allen said the company didn’t dig deep into ROI metrics to see if Rita translates to labor savings. The company also isn’t sure if Rita’s presence has affected server tips, saying, “We hope to learn more as Rita develops.”

For now, its expansion alone is a major vote of confidence. Allen even goes so far as to call the technology a competitive advantage in the casual dining segment, as it is part of a multi-year technology investment that also includes things like portable ordering devices and back-of-the-box solutions. -the-house. Particularly, Brinker is also being tested with Flytrex to deliver the company’s It’s Just Wings products to customers via drone.

“My goal is not to take hospitality out of the hotel industry; people are what makes this industry. My goal is to facilitate the work of our employees, and I absolutely believe that robotics is an evolution of service. The future is a world where we still have incredible hospitality, but we can simplify and automate some of the difficult and unnecessary tasks,” Allen said. “We know Rita has a purpose and adds value. We don’t play with it. Our intention is to go further.

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