Why we are Transforming the Future of Restaurants with Robots.

John Ha
John Ha
Jan 22 · 3 min read

Our food-service robot was first introduced to my restaurant in 2016. When I opened my restaurant while working as an engineer at Google, I experienced the battleground restaurateurs must manage day-to-day. If it wasn’t the cook calling in sick on a Friday night, it was servers deciding to quit without notice. I constantly rolled up my sleeves to work alongside my employees. Every time, I found the work here to be way too physical. I thought to myself “no wonder employees quit so quickly”. I tried to make my restaurant a great place to work, but I was frustrated when I couldn’t even afford to offer health insurance to my employees. With all of this happening behind the scenes, we tried our hardest to keep it together for our customers and resolve every fire drill possible.

It wasn’t long before I recognized that this is an overarching problem of our food service industry. We are spending so little time into the most important part of the business, to provide amazing food and amazing service. Instead, extensive amounts of time and energy are spent on repetitive, backbreaking work. Servers walk 7 to 9 miles a day, running water refills, and carrying heavy loads of dirty dishes to and from the kitchen. On the other hand, owners struggle with the administrative burden of constantly hiring and training new people to make up for the labor turnover. These elements together lower the standard for service. Over time, I found myself wondering — “Isn’t this an enormous distraction from the core? What does it take to shift the focus back to service? Can technology help?”

After a few late nights after work, I developed a simple robot prototype. It was a self-driving robot that delivered food on a restaurant floor. For me, it was a life-altering moment to show this to my employees and observe its immediate impact on our business across revenue, tip rate, and employee retention. A year later, I left Google and started Bear Robotics with three other co-founders — Fangwei, Juan and Bren. Together, we embarked on a mission to change the way restaurants and other food venues work. We aim to allow servers to spend more time with their customers and have robots do the tedious work. This, we believe, enables the best possible employee and customer experience.

Meet Penny: A self-driving robot for food service that delivers food, drinks, and empty dishes to-and-from the kitchen. It is designed to help servers spend more time with customers by doing dirty and physical work for them. Penny can run in various food service environments — big or small (think: casual dining rooms, large banquet halls, or the long walk of a casino gaming floor).

To date, our robot has assisted servers at a pizzeria in Mountain View, banquet rooms in Sunnyvale, a casino in Los Angeles, a senior living center in Cupertino, restaurants and cafés in Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, South Korea. The data shows that Penny has increased servers’ time with customers by an average of 40 percent, and received customer satisfaction reviews of 95 percent. We are working diligently toward mass production of our robots for global chains.

At Bear Robotics, we will transform the future of work for this industry. We will extend the emotional connection for employees and customers. We will decrease friction and allow owners to stick to their ideals around food and service. Down the road, we hope to hear people saying, “Running a successful restaurant is so much simpler and easier thanks to Bear Robotics”. And with a recent Series A investment of $32 million led by SoftBank Group, we’re excited to open the next chapter of our journey.

Interested in joining our mission? You can reach me at hi@bearrobotics.ai.

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