CAPE CORAL, Fla.–Customers at Lelulo’s Pizzeria may be in for a surprise when their server approaches the table. It is only three feet tall, with limited vocabulary, and resembles something out of Star Wars. But instead of being armed with lasers, it is armed with food.
Restaurant owner, Pittsburgh native Jorge Mazur, has brought his hometown flavor and attitude to Florida, along with a background in robotics. Steelers football paraphernalia adds to the festive decor and the Italian menu features items such as Philly cheesesteak pizza and cheesesteak subs.
Mazur said the idea of using a robot came to him a few months ago during a labor shortage. He brought them in, not to replace servers, but to “assist them.”
Although he never thought he could actually afford one, utilizing robots is nothing new to him. Mazur installed them in healthcare settings in Pittsburgh, where he worked for McKesson Automation until 1999 when the company transferred him to Florida.
“Because of my background with automations–I subscribe to tech magazines–I saw server and robot pop up on my phone,” Mazur said. “I’m thinking it’s probably way too expensive, but I found out that the possibility was real and that it breaks down to $3 an hour to run the robot for labor.”
A robot runs about 12 hours a day and it doesn’t take “eight million cigarette breaks,” bathroom breaks, or any breaks, he said with a laugh. “And it listens, and doesn’t talk back.”
“It’s taking some pressure off our servers as they don’t have to run to the window as often,” Mazur continued. “They’re also handling pick-up and to-go orders, and the robot helps out with that as well.”
To find a name for the robot, Mazur ran a contest and put it out to his customer base via Facebook.
“A couple of people submitted the name ‘Champ,’” he told The Epoch Times. “Pittsburgh is known as the City of Champions because of our sports history; so Champ is what we named the robot.”
The winners who picked the name received a $100 gift card each.
At first, Mazur said, the servers were afraid it would take away from the tip money, but that hasn’t been the case.
“We have studied this, and we have found that the servers are actually making more tip money because of the efficiency of the robot,” he explained. “The robot allows the servers to take care of the customers–like get their drinks refilled, or bus a table so another patron can be seated quickly.”
Replacing live people with robots is not something Mazur is willing to discuss at this time, but he takes nothing “off the table.” He said robots help servers “save steps” and the food gets to the tables faster and hotter.
Service robots can be used in a variety of capacities such as restaurants and retirement homes, Juan Higueros, co-founder of Bear Robotics, told The Epoch Times. His company launched in 2017 and began mass-producing the “Servi Robots” in 2020, he said.
“Our robots were designed to work alongside humans to help, while simultaneously enhancing the customer experience,” Higueros told The Epoch Times. “Servi is our first mass-produced robot and can autonomously carry food, drinks, and dirty dishes between the kitchen and tables in a dining facility. They are also very useful in retirement home settings to assist not only food service but assist with other duties.”
Higueros said that larger chain restaurants such as Chili’s and Denny’s are using the robots.
Oxford Economics predicts that 20 million robots will be in use globally by 2030. The report warned that existing business models may be “disrupted” and millions of existing jobs may be lost including up to 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030.
Back at Lelulo’s Pizzeria, when Champ was asked how he liked working there, he simply replied: “Enjoy.”