Robot employee serves lunch at Lillington diner during employee shortage

With restaurants dealing with chronic staff shortages, the Highway 55 diner found a high-tech way to lower the stress: By hiring a robot server.

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Bryan Mims
, WRAL reporter
LILLINGTON, N.C. — The newest employee at a restaurant in Lillington is on a roll with rave reviews for stellar service.

The employee is a robot.

With restaurants dealing with chronic staff shortages, the Highway 55 diner found a high-tech way to lower the stress.

With all the "Now Hiring" signs in windows, restaurant workers have been feeling the pressure lately, especially during busy times of day like the lunch and dinner rush.

The staff of Highway 55 are grateful for their new co-worker, even if it's a little strange to have a robot serving lunch in a small-town diner.

"We're all living in a strange time," said Alex Ramos, who owns the restaurant.

Ramos brought in the robot – officially named Servi and made by a company called Bear Robotics – for a trial run. It costs $999 a month, including installation and support.

It glides across the floor with a gentle jingle, carrying hot, fresh orders of food to waiting tables. It's programmed to deliver food from the kitchen to every table in the restaurant. Sensors keep it from running into people.

Employees say it's helped the wait staff spend more time with their customers – and that kids and families really love it.

"The purpose of Servi is not really to replace our staff," he said. "The purpose of Servi is just to relieve the stress and the burden from our staff."

The staff has been overworked and stretched thin because too few people have the appetite to work in food service. Those staff shortages have been causing staff to pick up extra hours – or have too few hands on deck.

"If we can't find a normal human being that would normally work, we're gonna rely on Servi so we don't overburden the four that are working that shift," said Ramos.

The staff is working on names for the robotic helper – like Betty or Rosie, Tim Conway or Mr. Roboto.

Servi can work 8 to 12 hours a day on a two-hour charge.

Ramos says in the week since it's been on the job, it has worked smoothly.

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