Food News

Hey BellaBot! Where's My Soup? Robot Servers Help Out Amid Ongoing Worker Shortage

Some North Texas restaurants like Tian Tian have started using robots to run dishes to the dining room.
Some North Texas restaurants like Tian Tian have started using robots to run dishes to the dining room. Maria Lawson
When Lucy M. visited Tian Tian in Dallas for a birthday dinner, she expected a server or two to sing happy birthday, but instead, her party was greeted by a smiling robot with the song streaming from its speakers.

Tian Tian is one of the restaurants in Dallas that have brought robot servers onboard amid worker shortages.

A robot delivered Lucy M.’s crispy Peking duck (a fatty duck with crispy, thin wonton skin wrappers) and a fragrant duck soup to her table, as she detailed in her Yelp review. And while a (human) server took their order and provided a personable experience, the robot handled the food deliveries and the iconic birthday song.

American Robotech is the manufacturer of the spot’s robot server — a model known as BellaBot — which is one of four models the company has created since its inception in early 2021. The robots are capable of wearing the hats of food runners, servers and hosts while providing a bit of a wow factor.

Tian Tian's BellaBot makes for an efficient dining experience. As soon as plates are ready, food is brought to the table; there's no need to wait for availability from a human food runner.
click to enlarge BellaBot at Tian Tian has a cat-like face and apparently loves to dress for the holidays. - MARIA LAWSON
BellaBot at Tian Tian has a cat-like face and apparently loves to dress for the holidays.
Maria Lawson

When we visited, our salted edamame came out first
in a matter of minutes. It was a bit intriguing to watch the Wall-E-like robot scoot across the restaurant with the appetizer in tow. A few minutes later, dumplings and steaming fried rice appeared at the table, again with the robot commanding the room.

While some customers are clearly entertained by the BellaBot, the Tian Tian servers are close by to take orders, give refills and ensure a positive customer experience.

While robot servers are not meant to replace human servers, they can take on some of the monotonous tasks off employees on a day-to-day basis, American Robotech CEO Jackie Chen recently told Insider. These duties include bringing out food and taking dirty dishes back to the kitchen, but they need to work in conjunction with a person to load and unload the device’s shelves.

McKinney-based Layered, an all-day brunch and lunch restaurant that uses local ingredients, had a BellaBot join the team in July to enhance customer experience and ease workload from the employees.

Layered has a dining area of about 1,500 square feet and another 2,000 square feet in the kitchen, and owner Nir Sela said the main advantage of the robots is saving the servers from the constant back-and-forth obligations in the restaurant, especially since retention of new staffers has been difficult lately.

“I am pretty sure the future will bring more robotic technology to the industry, not to cut staff, but to enhance customer experience,” Sela says,  “specifically here in the South [where we’re] known for people skills and customer service.”

Another restaurant in Dallas using American Robotech’s robots is La Duni, a Latin American restaurant on McKinney Avenue. In another Yelp review, Traci R. said she was thrilled to see the robots delivering her drinks and meals to her table and the novelty of the experience alone made the trip worth it.

On the flip side, in Shelly H.’s review of La Duni, she said the concept of robots “sounds cute, but they are rather annoying.” The robot stopped behind her chair, requiring her to perform yoga-like motions to retrieve the food without moving from her seat. While the robot servers are a fun asset to a restaurant, mobility is restricted by the robots in a way that human servers don’t face.

At just $15 a day, which is how much they're costing La Duni, according to an Insider article, the robots certainly cost less money. And they don't demand ciggie breaks after a hectic lunch rush. Yet. 
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