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Texas restaurant hires robots as servers amid staff shortage

The restaurant owner added he still believes that human service at restaurants is "essential."
/ Source: TODAY

One restaurant owner in Dallas, Texas, is getting creative amid the nationwide staff shortage. Taco Borga, who owns and operates the Latin American restaurant La Duni, hired three robots to help serve his hungry customers.

Borga, a 40-year veteran of the restaurant industry, told TODAY Food that he had to close several of his eateries during the pandemic. When it came to saving his last restaurant earlier this summer, he would've done just about anything.

“We said, ‘You know, we have to come up with a way to change our entire model of service, otherwise we're going to lose the last five servers we’ve got,” he explained. So he called up Jackie Chen, who owns the Texas-based company, American Robotech.

The robot Borga's staff has nicknamed "Panchita" delivers food to a table.Taco Borga / La Duni

Chen showed up less than an hour later, robots in hand.

“Then the next day, I delivered a robot to him and then we finished the installation within one hour,” Chen told TODAY Food.

Borga said it would have taken him weeks to get a human server up to speed. The robots just took 45 minutes.

The robots mostly deliver food, Chen said, and greet customers.

“I think the staff has really optimized the service process,” Chen said. “In the past, they needed people to multitask and go back forth, back and forth. Nowadays, they only just have one (person) in the kitchen put all the food on the load board (of the robot), and the other waiter, they don't need to go back to the kitchen.”

Borga added that the remaining handful of human servers on staff now have time to really talk with their customers with the help of the robots.

“That's what the servers are really supposed to do, that's what hospitality is all about: It's not about taking your order and going to the kitchen and bringing it to you, and cleaning your table and going to the next, that's not really what service is about,” he explained.

Borga said he believes his staff and the robots make a great team but the human element of service will remain “essential.”

“I don't know if it's the solution yet, but every day is becoming more clear, the necessity of these types of solutions,” he said.

So far, Borga said, customers have responded well to the machines.

“Even if they're tense and frustrated when they see the robot giggling … they kind of calm down a little bit, and then they get more at ease and they smile, and then somehow the whole experience becomes more pleasurable for everybody involved,” he explained, adding that they’ve named their bots and dressed them up to make them “funny and approachable.”

One of the robots at La Duni roams the restaurant.Taco Borga / La Duni

He said they’ve programmed some of the robots to even flirt with customers, offering them compliments when they sit down.

“You know, everybody laughs,” he chuckled. “It's like going to Disneyland and meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time. You're not thinking that is a person in a costume, you think you're dealing with Mickey Mouse himself, and it's a fantasy experience.”

Especially their young customers have been thrilled by the experience, so much so that Borga has even taken calls from parents confirming the robots are working that day.

“And I'm like, ‘Well, let me explain something to you, the whole premise of the robot is they don't take days off,’” he laughed. “Every day, as long as you charge them that night before, they'll be working the entire shift … So what's not to like?”