May 5, 2022 - Business

We tried it: Ramen served by a robot

An animated gif of a robot waiter delivering food to a table

A robot server arrives at a table at Hiro Ramen & Tea on Sawmill Road. Clip: Alissa Widman Neese/Axios

A boy gasped as the waiter wheeled over his dinner. "That's a Roomba! A Roomba has our food!"

  • Adults smirked and recorded videos while the little white robots with blinking blue eyes carefully maneuvered around tables, never spilling a single drop of hot ramen broth.

What's happening: More restaurants are dabbling in automation, which means robots preparing or serving meals could someday be commonplace. A new Dublin-area restaurant, Hiro Ramen & Tea, has already embraced the future.

Why it matters: For businesses, automation means lower payrolls and guaranteed staff amid a labor shortage. For customers, it ensures consistent food and service.

  • Plus, who doesn't want to be greeted by a real-life Wall-E? You can't help but smile.

How it works: At Hiro, customers scan QR codes linked to their tables to place orders. An employee loads food onto the robot and it follows a pre-programmed path to deliver it.

Between the lines: It's unlikely we'll abandon human employees entirely, Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, tells Axios.

  • Ideally, humans could focus on personalizing customers' experiences, while robots do repetitive kitchen runs and mundane tasks.

What they're saying: "The technology is finally at a point where it can work side-by-side with people safely," Burnstein says. "If there's a labor shortage, that might be the difference between actually being open and not."

The big picture: Columbus-based White Castle is testing Flippy 2, a robot fry cook that can juggle fryer baskets and flip burgers.

  • A fleet of Grubhub food-delivery rovers have roamed Ohio State's campus since last year. They're so popular they inspired a fan Instagram with nearly 10,000 followers and Etsy merch.
A food delivery rover on wheels
A Cartken food delivery robot, a model new to Ohio State this spring. Photo courtesy of OSU

What's next: While front-end automation, such as order kiosks, are becoming ubiquitous, robot meal preparation is the next food service frontier, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

💭 Alissa's thought bubble: Hiro's robots are as efficient as they are adorable. I was mesmerized, giggling every time one announced "your delicious meal is here."

  • We aren't quite to the point of a full robot takeover — human employees were still busing tables and prepping food — so go check it out while it's still a novelty.
An overview of a seafood noodle stir fry, pork buns and ramen
A seafood udon noodle stir-fry, steamed pork buns and spicy miso ramen, delivered via robot at the perfect temperature. Photo: Alissa Widman Neese/Axios

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Columbus.

More Columbus stories