Chili’s Grill & Bar is expanding its test of the hosting, toting and singing Rita the Robot to 51 more restaurants, the company said this week.
The casual-dining division of Dallas-based Brinker International Inc. says a test in 10 restaurants since October 2020 has helped the brand determine which roles the robot does best.
“Rita is just one way – and proof – that we’re innovating in the name of fun and efficiency,” said Wade Allen, Brinker senior vice president of innovation, said in a statement.
“In the 18 months Rita has been testing in 10 of our restaurants, she’s proven reliable time after time,” Allen said.
Allen, in answer to emailed questions, added that "we’ve been measuring every aspect of her performance, and all of it has been overwhelmingly positive. She makes the job less strenuous for team members by cutting down on their steps and the amount they’re required to physically carry, and she’s been a hit among guests of all ages. In recent polling in some of our 'Rita-fied' restaurants, 82% of guests felt their experience was better overall because of Rita, and 77% said their server spent more time with them due to Rita."
A company spokesperson said Rita the Robot, as the Bear Robotics product has been named for the Chili’s test, can:
- Host. The robot can lead customers to tables and provide a pitch for the My Chilis Rewards loyalty program until the server takes over. “Her presence eases the pressure on our hosts by allowing them to stay at their stand to welcome guests in and attend to their questions and concerns,” a spokesperson said.
- Run food and help clear tables. The company said Rita does not take over for existing runners but eases their burden in hauling food from the kitchen and carrying dishes back.
- Sing. “With a beautiful voice and a priority to please, Rita is programmed to lead the birthday song, even delivering the honoree a scoop of ice cream to celebrate,” a spokesperson said.
Allen added that Rita performs tasks with a 99% success rate. "Each restaurant is different though, and they utilize her in the ways that are most helpful to them," he said. "She’s most used right now for food running and hosting duties."
Employee reaction has been positive, Allen noted. "Team members have been polled on every aspect of their interactions with Rita," he said, "and to know her is to love her — 82% of our team members say they are excited about Rita, and so far, she’s been most helpful with food running and hosting. Additionally, the addition of first-class technology allows our team members the opportunity to learn skills for life and for their futures in the workforce. To be able to learn how to serve but do it in this way offers a value we haven’t yet seen in the casual-dining industry."
Rita the Robot was created by Redwood City, Calif.-based Bear Robotics, which received a key investment from SoftBank. The autonomous food runner hit the market in 2018 and was rebranded as Servi. A number of restaurant brands have deployed the robot server.
In March, Brinker said it would expand drone delivery of the It’s Just Wings menu to Granbury, Texas, with Flytrex Inc. The drone delivery had been tested in North Carolina.
Besides the Chili’s casual-dining brand, Brinker operates Maggiano’s Little Italy and the two virtual brands, It’s Just Wings and Maggiano’s Italian Classics. The company operates and franchises more than 1,600 restaurants in 29 countries and two U.S. territories.
UPDATE April 15, 2022: This story was edited to include more data from Brinker's surveys and comments from Wade Allen.
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