Nashville-area restaurant rolls out robot server
Singam has increased productivity at 615 ChuTNey by more than 30%
Amid the ongoing labor shortage, an Indian restaurant southwest of Nashville, has found an unusual and an unusually hard working employee: a robot.
Singam (Indian for lion), as the robot is known, is no gimmick, says Niroop Prabhakar, the owner of 615chuTNey - A Very Indian Affair, Bellevue's first and only Indian restaurant. The glossy white, four-foot tall, futuristic feline works 8 hours a day, 6 days a week delivering delicious dosas, curries and other southern Indian dishes to the more than 20 tables inside the eatery.
Since Singam joined the team two months ago (June), productivity at Prabhakar’s restaurant has increased by more than 30-percent.
The robot is an offshoot of the labor shortage or so-called “great resignation”, Prabhakar says, citing the more than 1.3 million unfilled job openings at restaurants and hotels as of the end of June. That figure is double the number two years ago, according to the Labor Department.
“Singam isn’t replacing anyone,” he says. “When I relocated the restaurant to a larger space, I needed more staff, but I couldn’t even get anyone to apply to be a food runner.”
Last July, after two successful years at his east Nashville location, Prabhakar relocated his restaurant to Bellevue to increase customer capacity. His former brick-and-mortar location could accommodate 30 guests inside while the new space can support 90 and has a stage for live music and performances.
“I struggled to maintain a staff during the pandemic at my east Nashville location, but it was smaller and I managed,” he explains. “But when I moved, something had to change. I needed help.”
Prabhakar — who works six days a week open to close — and two servers were burning the candle at both ends trying to serve three times the amount of customers.
Inspired by restaurants like Sushi Train and Asian Tik Tok videos featuring food delivery robots, Prabhakar began toying with the idea of a robot in his own restaurant. Four months later, Singam entered into the equation.
Onboarding the robot was relatively simple, Prabhakar says. Singam took just 45 minutes to train. Prabhakar mapped out the layout of the restaurant and numbered each of the tables. The robot just needed to learn the landscape.
Once an order is completed in the kitchen, Prabhakar or his two other employees put the food on the trays and enter the number of the table that ordered it. From there, it’s all eyes on Singam. Countless customers “Ooo” and “Ahhh”, taking pictures and videos of the bot as it glides through the room with swagger never before seen from a food deliverer.
“It’s like something out of the Jetson’s,” says one customer. “I never thought I would see something like this in Tennessee.”
Prabhakar says there are plenty of others who share in the customer’s reaction. The robot has unintentionally become 615chuTNey’s greatest advertisement.
“I saw the robot on my friend’s Instagram story,” says another patron. “I’ve never even had Indian food before, but I wanted to see to the robot.”
The electronic worker is not designed to deliver liquids, but each of its four trays can hold up to 22lbs of food. During the time that Singam can deliver food to four tables, Prabhakar and his team can bus a table, prepare food and bring drinks to two other tables. He adds that Singam is especially helpful on lunch buffet days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), delivering bread to customers as he and his team tend to customers and cook in the kitchen.
The owner is so pleased with Singam’s performance, he is considering adding another autonomous employee — a bot bus boy.
While Singam is the most obvious and popular example of technology in the restaurant, Prabhakar also utilizes QR codes for ordering.
“This gives me and the front staff more time to interact with guests about anything and everything other than food,” Prabhakarsays. “After all, every business is all about building relationships.”
Once the order is placed, the kitchen gets to start working on the order and the food comes out on time. The guest on the other hand, he adds, has an option to stay as long as they want and order more food or leave, once they are ready to go.
Prabhakar thinks technology and robots in restaurants are a “foregone conclusion” and compared automation in restaurants to the automation of factories, saying food service has “lagged greatly behind other industries.”
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