Why Integrating Hospitality Robots (Or Any Robots) is Easier Than You Think

The robot age is upon us.

For decades, science fiction has depicted robots as fantastic machines of a future world. We read about them in books, then saw them in movies. Eventually, we started working alongside them.

It started in factories and production lines. Powerful and efficient robotic arms assembling cars and welding large pieces of metal together.

Over time, the designs of these robots improved to become more productive and less limited, to the point where they have become more effective than their human counterparts. More factories started utilizing these robots. In fact, more than 2.7 million industrial robots were recorded operating in factories as of 2020.

manufacturing robots assembling an automobile
Photo by Lenny Kuhne on Unsplash

Then suddenly… a pandemic hit, and with it came a labor crisis. This is when the true dawn of widespread automation began.

Since the start of the pandemic, businesses across a variety of industries have turned to robotics as a way to generate revenue and fill in the gaps of a depleted labor market.

Although businesses are integrating automation at a faster pace than ever before, most business owners still do not consider robotics as a practical solution for their operational pains.. While they provide numerous concerns related to the implementation of robotics in their business, they can be summarized with two main worries:

  1. Business owners worry that their business is not a good fit for robotic automation.
  2. Business owners worry that the investment in purchasing a robot will not prove fruitful in the end.

Let’s address these common concerns with a story about a time when one business, Wesley Enhanced Living, decided to integrate hospitality robots into their business.

Story Time: A Business that Integrated Robotics

Wesley Enhanced Living, a group of non-profit continuing care retirement communities, are located in Pennsylvania, around the Philadelphia metropolitan area. We have worked closely with them to deploy our Matradee L food serving and bussing robot in three out of their six locations, with great success.

I recently connected with Shawn Fontaine, Director of Culinary and Nutritional Services, to discuss what led them to the decision to integrate robotics into their business, and how the process went.

Interview with Shawn Fontaine, Director of Culinary and Nutritional Services

Thanks for joining me Shawn. Why did Wesley Enhanced Living first look into integrating the Matradee L?

Shawn: We were in the same spot with most of our competitors, where we were losing staff or the staff wasn’t coming back to work, due to either Covid-19 or the vaccine mandates. We saw a need to fill some holes and we needed to take some actions to fill those holes.

We started looking for other options and started to think outside the box. We always saw there were robots that did some cooking, or some robots that were bartenders, but nothing that really was a robot that could perform the role of a server. We continued looking, however, and stumbled upon Richtech Robotics and the Matradee L

Were there any reservations that you or your team had about utilizing robotics?

Shawn: In general, I think the biggest concern was how it would work and would it run into anybody or would it cause any kind of accident or harm our residents. Once we got it, we were able to conduct a test drive with it for about two weeks. After the first day of trying it out, it really just solved all our questions.

"After the first day of trying it out, it really just solved all our questions."

We had no issues and we felt that it was very competent as far as making sure it knew how to reroute. It saw obvious obstacles and rerouted itself. If there were residents in the way, it also rerouted itself. It definitely took care of our thoughts of it not working or the doubts that we had about technology performing the duties of what would normally be a human's job.

How has the Matradee L at your location integrated into the workflow of the business?

Shawn: We use the Matradee L as a food runner primarily, as well as a busser. We also use it occasionally to run food to different locations in our building to resupply our bistro or to drop by events in different rooms that we have throughout the facility.

How often does the Matradee L at your location get used?

Shawn: We have two Matradee Ls, and we use them pretty much all day long, from around noon to 7:30pm. We start by using them in the bistro for lunch service, and after about 4pm when our bistro closes, we use them in our main dining area until dinner service concludes. They’re pretty much on all day.

How would you describe the process of integrating the Matradee L into the business? How did it compare to your preconceived notions?

Shawn: We were initially concerned that there might be a lot of issues bringing in robots. We thought that we would have to redesign a bunch of stuff in the kitchen or in the dining room. We even thought we would have to just re-engineer the process of dining, but we found that these robots were pretty much plug and play.

All we needed to do on our side was define the waiting points for them. We figured out we needed one stationed at the expo station and one waiting in the dining room. Once we defined those locations, the Richtech Robotics technicians programmed them and upon completion, the Matradee Ls took off running.

After that, we didn't really have to modify anything. There wasn't really re-engineering that needed to be done as far as the tasks that the robot was performing. We didn’t have to re-write job descriptions, because the robots weren't really taking responsibility away from the servers. Rather, they were there as a tool to help the servers.

What benefits has introducing robotics brought to your business?

Shawn: The benefits begin with speed of service. We can now serve a six top in one fell swoop, versus having three servers run two plates at a time. We can even assign eight servers to one robot to provide maximum capability. We’re now able to service a complete table at a time, versus needing servers to run back and forth between the kitchen, which ultimately drags out the service and causes the whole table’s food to get cold.

Because of this improvement in speed of service, food is being served hotter. We always have a server stationed in the dining room, ready to offload the food when it arrives on the Matradee L. The quality of food obviously piggybacks on that.

Then there’s the entertainment aspect of the Matradee Ls. The residents like watching these robots move around. They find it fun, and they think it’s funny when they reroute themselves, or when somebody is in the robot’s path and the robot politely asks them to move. The residents like the music that the robots play, and when it’s a birthday day, the residents love that the robot comes out and sings happy birthday to them.

"We have saved around $72,000 based on the four people who’s spots we don’t have to fill."

Overall, it’s a huge improvement to our dining facility. In terms of cost savings, we’re using it for about two part-time employees and we save about $36,000 per robot, so we have saved around $72,000 based on the four people who’s spots we don’t have to fill.

What specific problems has introducing robotics solved for your business?

Shawn: We would often have call outs. We would have issues where we had to close sections because we didn't have enough staff. Now, we have plenty of staff. As long as we have four or five servers working with the Matradee Ls, we can feed about 130 residents per night.

We feel as if we have plenty of staff with the Matradee Ls running food and bussing. We don’t need as much staff, because we make sure that we have bus tubs on the robot and we do a lot of pre-bussing with the robots. Because of this, servers don't have to leave the dining rooms, which leads to more interaction with the residents.

How has the Matradee L been received by the staff? By the guests?

Shawn: So at first, everybody was a little skeptical of the robots. Once they realized that it was actually there to help them and they were able to really do their job better and actually talk to the residents more, they found that their job was actually a little more rewarding. They were grateful we gave them tools that help them with their service.

A lot of kids are afraid to lift a heavy tray above their head, bring out a tray stand, and try to put it down on the tray stand without spilling or dropping the tray. That deterred a lot of people because it's heavy, awkward, and fearful for some of these kids who've never had to do it before. We were able to squash that fear and make it so the employees had a fun tool to use.

As far as our residents and our customers go, they enjoy the robots moving around. They enjoy seeing the robots zoom in and out of the tables. Although, we have them somewhat slowed down just because we want to make sure that the residents are aware that the robots are around them so that they can react as well as the robots react correctly.

Has your overall opinion of robotics changed at all after working with them on a day to day basis?

Shawn: I think I've become more aware of different types of robots that exist. I really like to see the technology out there, and I can't wait to see new technology that we can use. I see some opportunities later for integrating bartending robots, not to take over a bartender but just to add to the bar in a self serve area.

Obviously the housekeeping robots out now would really help us out on a nightly basis so we can always have a clean environment and atmosphere in our community. So, we look forward to seeing what comes out.

Thanks again for joining us Shawn, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.

It’s Easy to Integrate Robotics / Steps

Now that we know automation integration can be straightforward, let’s examine the exact process we used to ensure a smooth deployment and enhanced customer experience.

Step 1: Consider What Business Problems Automation Could Solve

The foundation of any successful robotics system integration is to determine what tasks your business can accomplish with automation. Take a thorough look at every task that needs to be completed in order for your business to operate as normal.

Next, consider if there are any additional tasks that can be performed that would help your business. Can any of these tasks be accomplished by a robot? To determine this, ask yourself:

  • Are these tasks repetitive?
  • Do these tasks require creative thought?
  • Do these tasks require advanced communication skills?

If you answered yes, no, and no respectively to these questions, then you know that the task you are examining is a prime candidate for an automated solution.

Oftentimes, similar businesses share similar needs for tasks that need to be accomplished. For the hospitality industry especially, we’ve designed automated solutions for virtually every business need. Here are some use cases where our robots proved to be a fantastic solution for common tasks in the hospitality industry:

ADAM Solution

Use cases: Barista, bartender, and boba tea milk

adam the bartending robot waits to pour a drink
Learn more about ADAM

ARM Solution

Use cases: Fry cook, food preparation, and barista

white robotic arm waits to move
Learn more about ARM

Matradee Solution Lineup

Use cases: Server, busser, host, and theater delivery

Learn more about Matradee

Richie Solution

Use cases: Hotel delivery and curbside delivery

Learn more about Richie

DUST-E Solution Lineup

Use cases: Floor mopping, vacuuming, and sweeping for college campuses, hotels, restaurants, and warehouses

Learn more about DUST-E

UV guardian

Use cases: UV-C disinfection for hospitals, churches, or any gathering place

Learn more about UV Guardian

Step 2: Calculate The ROI Of A Robot

Determining the ROI of any investment is imperative to arriving at a confident decision. One of the most unique aspects of robotics is the fact that the ROI on a robotics implementation is almost always positive.

If you’re not sure where to start on calculating the ROI of a robotics implementation, here is a simple formula that will help you find it:

Cost of the Robot / Monthly Salary of the Human Worker = ROI

Using this formula, you can easily calculate the ROI for  introducing automation into the workforce, over 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, etc.

If you do not get the investment price of the robot you’re considering, you can simply flip the formula to set a target price:

Monthly Salary of the Human Worker / Time Period (1 Year, 3 Years, 5 Years) = Target Cost of the Robot

One thing to note is that this formula doesn’t take into effect any extra benefits that robotic workers bring to the table, which include consistency in production and increased efficiency.

Step 3: Demo A Robot

Now that you’ve identified the potential types of robots to introduce, as well as a target ROI, you can start booking robot demos. This is where spreadsheets meet the real world. When you are able to see how a robot functions, you will be able to better picture it in your environment and plan around it.

For most people, engaging in a robot demo is unfamiliar territory, and can therefore seem intimidating. Luckily, we’ve put together a list of questions that you will want to ask in your demo, to ensure that you are addressing important considerations:

  1. How long can the robot operate on a single charge?
  2. How long will the robot take to install?
  3. Is there any maintenance that must be regularly performed on the robot?
  4. How do most businesses like mine most commonly integrate robots?

In addition, it’s a good idea to spend a little bit of time before your demo, brainstorming questions that specifically apply to your business, so that you can get the most out of your demo.

Step 4: Pre-Install A Robot

You’ve seen the robot in its natural environment. Now it’s time to examine your own environment. The most common way to evaluate your environment is through a pre-install assessment.

We can’t speak on how other companies conduct these assessments, but our pre-install assessments are usually the easiest part of the process. We conduct dozens of pre-install assessments every week, so we know exactly what to look for.

During a Richtech Robotics pre-install assessment, a robotics technician will ask to be walked through your business’s space in order to gain a good picture of the potential installation site. Along the way, they will ask questions that will help them gain insight into considerations to take into account when installing the robot. These could be related to your physical environment or the workflow of your staff.

These pre-install assessments can be completed virtually, or in person. We will work with you to ensure that all of your concerns are addressed, and all aspects of the installation are accounted for.

Step 5: Create An Integration Plan Of Action

Integrating robotics into your business will change the workflow of the business, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a great way to innovate the way that you currently do business.

We find that businesses that establish an integration plan of action prior to or immediately after the installation of robotic systems are more successful and more satisfied with their installation. After all, even the most intuitive robot can’t be dropped into the middle of a workday and expected to work alongside its human team members harmoniously. A synergistic workflow will need to be brainstormed and implemented to improve employee and guest experience.

For some people, visually mapping out exactly how a robot technologies fit into your business’ workflow helps tremendously in considering what tasks the robot should and shouldn’t take over. For those people, I have a free flowchart resource.

At the very least, you should conceptualize how your human employees should interact with the robot, and what tasks the robot should perform.

Step 6: Install The Robot And Enjoy The Benefits

This is the fun part. When installing a robot, it’s important that the business owner(s), or the person at the business who is most aware of how day-to-day operations unfold, is present. This way, they can communicate with our technicians installing the robot to ensure they configure it in a way that best suits the workflow of the environment.

After installing the robot, it is important that the staff members are trained on how to use it. Without proper training, any staff could potentially receive their new coworker poorly. That’s why our technicians train their staff and answer any questions they might have before finishing the installation.

After the robot is installed and staff is trained, you can start fully enjoying the numerous benefits that robotics brings. One way implementing a robot can help out your business is through media coverage. If you reach out to your local news stations and let them know that a robot was just installed at your location, there’s a good chance they will come out and cover it, which will boost your business’s brand reach.

Conclusion

Integrating automation into your business can seem intimidating, but it really is a simple process, when the numerous benefits that come with robotics implementation. We’ve been fortunate enough to help out hundreds of businesses across the country generate more revenue, increase production, and hone their efficiency with our robots. We love being able to bring the exciting world of robots to all sorts of businesses. We would love to help yours next!

Click the contact button in the navigation bar to schedule a free demo with one of our friendly business representatives and get started on integrating robots in your business today.

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