Zachary Ziegler, the director of food and beverage at the retirement home for 800 residents, was wrestling during Covid-19 lockdowns and their aftermath how to serve people in the 325-seat dining room, Like many similar facilities and restaurants around the area, he was challenged to recruit and retain servers for the three dining rooms.
His solution was to reach out to Bear Robotics, headquartered in Redwood City and specializing in robots for restaurants and other food service institutions. He leased two robots, named by the residents Stony and Robby, and they were delivered last October. Now, more than nine months into the lease, the robots are familiar figures in the sprawling dining room.
Each robot can handle covered plates for 8 dinners. They’re autonomous so they find their way from the kitchen through the dining room to the destination where a server is stationed. They are programmed with a map of the dining room and so it’s simply a matter of entering the destination number. The server places the plates for each diner and later clears them onto the robot which takes them back to the kitchen.
The big win is for the serving team. With the robot delivering food and carrying the bussed dishes back to the kitchen, that eliminates about 4 miles of walking for the server. That’s saving lots of energy and sore feet and allowing them much more time to interact with the diners.
Ziegler introduced me to the Friday Lunch Bunch, three ladies and one man who enjoyed lunch together complete with their favorite wines. The husband and wife, Ray and Juayitt Austin, are finishing up their 9th decade on earth, closing in on Ann Garsco at 90—who is the mother of eight. Renee’ Bauer is the senior in the group, closing in on her 95th birthday.
They said, early on, they were watching the robots to see if they could maneuver in the dining room. That went away quickly because they work. The space is ideal for automated equipment because the aisles and spacing are wide to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs that some of the residents use to get around.
With the robots now in place, Ziegler cannot imagine a future without them. He’s been visited by three similar institutions checking out how well they worked.
The residents and the servers welcome them and now they’re simply part of the dining room landscape, something nobody could imagine prior to the pandemic shutdown.