Robots Are Multiplying in Restaurant Kitchens

Flippy 2 can make French fries faster than humans can.

October 10, 2022

PASADENA, Calif.—Miso Robotics is taking fast-food French fries and onion rings into the high-tech world, reports Reuters. The company’s Flippy 2 robot is automating the process of deep-frying potatoes, onion rings and other foods, which can reduce the amount of employees needed in the kitchen and speed up drive-thru times, according to Miso.

Flippy 2 has a large, robotic arm and is directed by cameras and artificial intelligence. It takes frozen fries, or other foods, from the freezer, plunges them into the hot oil and dumps them into a tray when they’re cooked. It can cook several meals at once with different recipes, as well.

“When an order comes in through the restaurant system, it automatically spits out the instructions to Flippy," Miso Chief Executive Mike Bell said in an interview. " ... It does it faster or more accurately, more reliably and happier than most humans do it.”

So far, Jack in the Box in San Diego, White Castle in the Midwest and CaliBurger on the West Coast are using Flippy 2 in their kitchens. Bell told Reuters another three fast-food chains in the U.S. use the robot into their kitchens, but he said they are hesitant to advertise because of sensitivities about perceptions that robots are taking jobs away from humans.

“The task that the humans are most happy to offload are tasks like the fry station. ... They're delighted to have the help so they can do other things," Bell told Reuters.

Flippy 2’s name comes from an original Flippy robot that was designed to flip burgers, but Miso’s team realized that kitchen production bottlenecks were actually stemming from the fry stations, particularly during the late-night hours.

Flippy 2 robots are monitored by Miso engineers in real time, and they can intervene and troubleshoot any issues that come up with the machines. The company has employed a total of 90 engineers, and next, they are working on a project called Sippy, which is a drink-making robot which will take an order from a customer, pour drinks, put lids on them, insert a straw and group them together.

Last month, Love’s Travel Stops opened its first Jamba by Blendid autonomous robotic kiosk at its Williams, California, store. The self-operating kiosk allows customers to customize their smoothie orders by adjusting ingredient quantities or adding boosts directly through the Blendid app. They can order on-site or schedule a preferred pickup time in advance via the mobile app.

Earlier this year, Panera Bread tested an automated coffee machine by Miso Robotics in two locations. The coffee system uses artificial intelligence to monitor coffee volume and temperature, and it also houses data, so Panera can analyze what kind of coffee its customers enjoy and when.

Panera says that the robotic coffee maker will allow employees to focus on customer service.

Automation is becoming a way for businesses to navigate the labor shortage. McDonald’s tested automated drive-thru orders, and California Pizza Kitchen has used a robot to clean tables. Miso Robotics also partnered with Chipotle to automate tortilla chip making.

“We’ve seen an ever-increasing tidal wave of demand,” Miso Robotics CEO Mike Bell said in an interview. Bell says that labor shortage is the restaurant industry’s biggest problem, “and it’s not going away,” he said.

Chipotle also invested in Hyphen, a foodservice platform designed to help restaurant owners, operators and chefs move their business forward by automating kitchen operations. The company's first product, The Makeline, is an automated system that utilizes advanced robotics and a customized operating system to make and fulfill orders. The Makeline assembles all digital orders under the counter via automated production while allowing staff to assemble in-house orders from the top of the counter.

The QSR also announced it’s piloting advanced technologies to enhance its employee and guest experience by streamlining operations and reducing friction. Chipotle recently began piloting two new technologies in its restaurants to deliver precise forecasting, optimal quality and increased convenience for digital guests, including a cook-to-needs kitchen management system and advanced location-based technology in its app.

NACS Magazine explored AI and machine learnings applications for the c-store industry, especially in foodservice, in “Welcome to an Intelligent 2022” in the January 2022 issue.