By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Apr 21, 2022 at 11:02 AM

Head to Golden Nest Pancakes & Cafe and you might be surprised to find your breakfast delivered to your table by a friendly robot.

That’s because the breakfast and brunch restaurant, located at 11250 W. Burleigh St., is the first restaurant in the Milwaukee area to implement Servi, a robotic food runner and bussing bot, which was created to provide a unique solution to the staffing issues being faced by the hospitality industry.

If you’re tempted to chuckle, you’re not alone. In many ways, the scenario sounds like it could be part of a  scene in a science fiction movie. But the new service robot is part of a movement to alleviate staffing issues while bringing efficiency to everyday service at restaurants and other hospitality businesses.

The goal of Servi is not necessarily intended to replace human staff, but rather to assist employees with their everyday tasks, thereby increasing the efficiency of food delivery, even when the restaurant is at its busiest.

“Ultimately, the robots support the core staff that we have,” says Doney. “And that support allows them to spend more time on the floor with the guests, rather than running back and forth between tables and the kitchen."

But that's not all. Doney says the robot, which works for a "salary" of around $2-$3 an hour, is providing consistent, efficient service that takes a load off of their other employees' plates.

"Robots can work 12-18 hours a day on a single charge," he says. "They don’t call in sick. They don’t have transportation issues ...or any of the other problems that humans do."

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A smart solution

Up until about a month ago, the notion that they could improve the restaurant experience at Golden Nest by using an AI service robot wasn’t even on their radar. But then they received a visit from Doug Lane, a local representative for California-based Bear Robotics, who introduced them to Servi.

“We listened to what he had to say, took a look at the specs and decided it might be a good move for the restaurant,” says General Manager Wayne Doney, noting that their motivation was largely fueled by staffing issues. “We haven’t been fully staffed since we opened in 2020, and lately, we’ve just been giving our money away advertising for positions.”

Overall, Doney says, the process was simple. The robot was delivered on Friday, and by Tuesday a technical rep from Bear Robotics had flown in to help them get the service robot up and running. 

“We had a robot in the dining room by late Tuesday morning,” he says. “And it’s been great.”

How does it work?

Ultimately, Doney says, the robot sits on the line in the kitchen until it’s needed. When the food for a given table is ready, someone at expo loads the dishes onto the robot’s trays. From there, the robot delivers the food to its designated table. 

“The staff on the floor pay attention to the robots and they meet them at the table to remove the food for guests,” says Doney. “So, they are able to interact with guests, answer questions and attend to anything else that comes up."

What’s more impressive is that the robots are “smart” enough that they can avoid common mishaps along the way.

“They are programmed for self-preservation, so it’s designed move around high chairs and any other obstacles that are in its way,” says Doney. “If a customer walks in front of a robot that’s on its way to a table, it automatically stops and says ‘excuse me.’ And once the food is unloaded from the trays, the robot responds to guests by saying ‘Enjoy your meal’ before returning to its station.”

Doney says the robot not only handles the delivery of food to tables in the restaurant. It also delivers carry-out and delivery orders to the hostess stand, bringing efficiency to another service element that’s become more and more common since the pandemic began.

Doney says that, so far, everyone loves their new addition. 

“Our staff is really happy with how things are going,” he says. “And customers are intrigued. Kids really love to watch them, and there are definitely a lot of photos and videos being taken.”

In fact, things are going well enough that they plan to add a second Servi to the restaurant in the coming weeks.  They are also considering adding a Servi or two to the staff at Adriatic Fresh Seafood & Steaks next door.

“If I come in in the morning and there are alcohol bottles emptied or missing, we’ll start to be suspicious,” Doney says with a chuckle. “But right now, they’re working great for us."

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.