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Naples restaurant adds robots to help amidst staffing shortages

Robot at Brooks Burgers in Naples
Rendy Ramos
Brooks Burgers in Naples added robots to help serving staff. The robots run food to and from tables, so servers have more time to work with customers.

Amazon, Lowe's, automotive manufacturers, and Brooks Burgers in Naples. What do these companies have in common? Robots.

Brooks Burgers in Naples recently added robots to help serving staff due to personnel shortages.

“We’re not trying to lose hospitality, we’re not trying to lose or replace employees. We’re simply giving them the ability to get through a shift and do a good job,” said Todd Brooks, the owner of Brooks Burgers.

Robots on wheels help servers bring food to the tables, providing servers more time to attend directly to customers. Brooks said that servers are able to give better service to customers, as well as up-sell desserts and drinks.

With that extra robotic help, the restaurant is able to be opened at full customer capacity with a smaller staff.

“Really, preventing sales loss was the target here, not replacing employees,” said Brooks.

Brooks said he discovered these robots when he was learning how different technologies in the kitchen and in other areas of the restaurant could help with fewer employees.

For instance, Brooks Burgers prefers to run four or five people in the kitchen. Due to staffing shortages they run only three. Brooks said that when the kitchen falls behind , the other restaurant staff also falls behind.

“You can only go as fast as the slowest area you have… [The robots] are just to really speed it up so we don’t have those bottle-necks,” Brooks said.

The robots are about three feet tall. They have a white frame with black shelves along the sides of its body where restaurant staff can stack food. The head of the robot has a rectangular computer interface that shows rows of numbered tables. The robots were programmed with a map of all the tables.

The robots have a lidar system, which is remote sensing technology that prevents them from running into people, furniture, or equipment. If someone walks in front of the robots, the robots have certain phrases like “Excuse me, I’m working here,” and then will roll around them.

When the robots were first introduced to the restaurant, Brooks said that it was difficult. A robot would sometimes get lost as they were being mapped to the restaurant, or they would bump into people. The robots were tweaked and then they were ready to roll.

To use the robots, staff press a table number on the interface, and once loaded with food, the robots travel to that table. When they get to the table, the server unloads the food, then hits a button on the computer to send the robots back to the kitchen.

Brooks Burgers Updated.mp4

When the robots aren’t in use, they stay at their home base at the back of the restaurant. The computer screens go black, and white shapes make up the short eyebrows, eyes, whiskers, nose and mouth mimicking a cat's face. Around the computer is a black frame, shaping the cat-face with protruding pointed ears.

Preston Willard, a server at Brooks Burgers, doesn't feel threated by the restaurant using robots.

“A lot of people tend to ask me if they’re gonna take my job,” Willard said. “I believe I’m better than a robot, and they are actually very helpful. If we’re all busy, out here, whenever we’re getting a rush, they’re there to run our food, they’re there to help.”

Jeannette Beres said that she has been to Brooks Burgers three times within a week and a half because she enjoys the robots.

“I think it’s been a great, great thing for the restaurant, and I think other restaurants should do it as well,” Beres said.

Jerry Robinson, a customer at Brooks Burgers, said the robots take away from personalized service.

“It starts getting a little impersonal,” Robinson said. “I still like personal contact, people on people, but you know, we’re in a different world now, so you have to learn to accept some things.”

In addition to the serving robots, the Brooks is currently working to add special technology in the kitchen to automate some of the cooking. In the meantime, he expects it will take about 18 months before he makes a return on this technological investment. That hasn’t deterred Brooks from his initial goal of human help.

“[The robots] weren’t ever brought in for that, [they were] brought in to fill a gap or a void that we couldn’t fill,” Brooks said.

Preston Willard said that along with the additional assistance, people love the robots and return to the restaurant to see them.

“I have tables going crazy for [the robots], they’re bringing customers, they’re a really good thing to happen to us, and definitely a big help,” Willard said.