Server robot: Austin restaurant’s investment helps with fast, contactless service

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Are you on the fence about sitting down in a restaurant and making direct contact with your server or others because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sangam Chettinad Indian Cuisine Restaurant says, ‘no problem.’ It has robot staffers to help with that.

Sangam’s owner said about eight months ago — when the restaurant realized COVID-19 likely wouldn’t be going away anytime soon — they decided to invest $1,200 in leasing a robot that tag teams tables with other servers, delivering food after the order is taken.

A customer puts dishes on a server robot at Sangam Chettinad Indian Cuisine Restaurant on Sept. 2, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Jala Washington)
A customer puts dishes on a server robot at Sangam Chettinad Indian Cuisine Restaurant on Sept. 2, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Jala Washington)

“Please take your food,” the server robot said. It’s a greeting just as friendly as you hope a normal server’s would be — maybe even friendlier.

“We love the robot… yeah!” one customer said.

The robot has sensors to keep it from hitting objects, but it’s definitely a hit with the customers.

“Yeah, he put it on Snapchat,” another customer said.

It doesn’t wear a mask but has gone through COVID-19-safe training, just like all other employees. It stays sanitized and has all the tables memorized.

“I have seen some of the adults happier than the kids,” Sangam’s owner, Nalluraj Devaraj, said.

“When the food is out from the kitchen, the robot will be waiting at the home — which is nothing but a place,” Nalluraj said.

The servers tell the robot which tables the food goes to. Nalluraj said this has helped a lot with curbside delivery.

“I would say about 60-70% of our pickup and deliveries… it will do the job,” Nalluraj said.

This is especially useful for this restaurant, which has suffered from fluctuating staffing shortages because of the pandemic and is still short-staffed.

“It has altered the whole business model,” Nalluraj said.

The most recent survey from the Texas Restaurant Association found 91% of the state’s restaurants currently have job openings that have been hard to fill.

Sangam focuses on serving its customers the best it can — a task made a little easier by a robot.

When it’s super busy, the restaurant won’t use the robot as much, because it will have to pause every time it crosses paths with another person.

Sangam just has one of these robots, but you could see more eventually.

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