In one of the first trials of a robotic fry cook at a national burger chain, White Castle said it would work with Pasadena, Califorinia-based Miso Robotics to test the company’s robotic chef at a restaurant in the Chicago area. The trial, which will start in the fall, will serve as a test run for potentially bringing the robot to other White Castle kitchens across the country.
White Castle first began discussions about using the Miso Robotics robots in its kitchens about nine months ago, according to White Castle’s vice president of shareholder relations, Jamie Richardson. For the company, it was a question of, “How can we start to make the kitchen of tomorrow, today?”
Already a success on social media, where videos of Miso Robotics’ Flippy robot have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, White Castle was intrigued about the prospects of a burger flipping, chicken, onion, and french frying robot in its locations, Richardson said.
Well before COVID-19, robots were a buzzy topic for quick-service restaurants. The labor market was historically tight, with no signs of let-up, and automation promised a streamlined, cost-effective approach. Accuracy and speed of service were other incentives for innovation-forward concepts to chase.
Automation creates an avenue for reduced human contact with food during the cooking process, decreasing potential for transmission of food pathogens. And it enables workers to socially distance more effectively than if the line was packed, as it often is at the legacy, 24/7 brand, where orders of 100 sliders are not uncommon.
Flippy brings smart cooking to the back of the restaurant by tapping into sensors, intelligence monitoring and anticipated kitchen needs to keep food temperatures consistent. “While they were never designed to [do this] initially, we really can reassure customers that food has had minimal contact,” Miso Robotics CEO and co-founder Buck Jordan said of pandemic demands.
White Castle said the move won’t replace any of its 10,000 employees, something it’s communicated to frontline workers throughout the process. Rather, it expects Flippy to free up employees for customer-experience driven tasks. And it’s hard to gauge how roles within the restaurant will change in a post-pandemic world.
A typical installation of a Miso Robotics system in a kitchen would cost a restaurant $30,000 upfront and then another $15,000 per year. However, with White Castle, the undisclosed terms were a little different.
Jordan said the goal is to bring the cost of the robotic system down to $15,000 for the entire system, obviating the need for any upfront costs, and convincing restaurants and franchisees that the robot can pay for itself right out of the gate.