- Chili's has expanded its partnership with Bear Robotics to bring Rita the Robot to 51 additional locations across eight states within the next month, the chain said in an email to Restaurant Dive.
- The casual chain has been testing the robot, which can lead guests to tables, run food and sing a birthday song to guests, in 10 of its restaurants since October 2020.
- Chili's parent company Brinker International has tested and deployed various technologies within the last few years, including handheld server devices and a curbside pickup system. The company also expanded its relationship with Flytrex to offer drone delivery of its various brands in Texas after a pilot in North Carolina.
Chili's partnership with Bear Robotics is focused on making restaurants run more smoothly and helping foster the company's fun, family atmosphere, Wade Allen, Brinker International's SVP of Innovation, wrote in an email to Restaurant Dive.
Rita has shown that it can successfully guide guests to their seats and pitch them offers like My Chili's Rewards until servers step in, the company said. The robot's presence eases pressure on hosts by allowing them to stay at their stands, welcome guests and respond to any questions or concerns. It also helps bussers and food runners make trips from kitchen to tables without taking over for these employees. Rita can also sing the birthday song and deliver the guest a scoop of ice cream to celebrate, the company said.
"In the 18 months Rita has been testing in 10 of our restaurants she's proven reliable time after time, she's made the job less strenuous for team members and she's been a hit among guests of all ages," Allen said.
At its "Rita-fied" restaurants, the company found that 82% of guests felt their experience was better because of Rita and 77% said their server spent more time with them, Allen said. Eighty-four percent of team members are excited about Rita, he said.
The original Rita test occurred in Texas, Florida and California. New deployments will be at various restaurants near Phoenix; near Sacramento, Fresno and the Bay Area in California; near Denver; near Tampa and Orlando, Florida; near Chicago; near Boston; near Las Vegas; and near Albany and Syracuse in New York.
Deploying Rita requires minimal additional training and little adaptation for in-restaurant team members, Allen said.
"The future of robotics in our industry is wide open, and we're focusing on ways we can use automation and robotic tools the same way Rita is being used, to assist our team members and to make the experience better for our guests," Allen said.
Chili's has various jobs inside their restaurants that can be made easier through technology, which the company has been doing since 1975, Allen said.
"Full-service restaurants like Chili's are as diverse and varied as the communities we serve, and that makes us a perfect place for robotics," Allen said. "And the addition of first-class technology allows our team members the opportunity to learn skills for life and for their futures in the workforce. To be able to learn how to serve but do it in this way offers a value we haven't yet seen in the casual dining industry."
Robots and automation are increasingly becoming a part of the restaurant industry. Bear Robotics has also deployed its robots in Denny's, and secured $81 million in financing in March to expand its hospitality products. While Bear Robotics focuses on easing front-of-house burdens, other robotics companies like Miso Robotics are being tested in back-of-house at chains like White Castle, Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings.
This article has been updated to include the locations of the original Rita the Robot test and where the expansion is taking place.