SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Sioux Falls restaurant is getting a third helping of technology to assist its wait staff. For the past year, the Pizza Ranch on 41st Street has been using a pair of robots to bus tables. Now, the management may soon be adding at least one more robot to its staff.
Artificial Intelligence is making career advancements at the 41st Street Pizza Ranch in Sioux Falls.
“Hi, nice to meet you. Please follow me.”
The restaurant hired a couple of robots last year, nicknamed R2D2 and C3PO, after the Star Wars droids, to bus tables.
“I kind of consider themselves my babies. I was here the first day we got them when they were quote-unquote born in the store and I’ve been kind of doing all the setup,” Pizza Ranch Front House Manager Josh Dachtler said.
Manager Josh Dachtler handles the trouble-shooting should the robots act-up.
“Sometimes they’re like my teenagers. There’s some days they work fantastic and other days they have a little bit of an attitude. But you know, we all have our bad days, even AI,” Dachtler said.
But the Pizza Ranch says the robots’ good days far outnumber the bad.
“We’ve loved them so far. They travel an average about 30 miles a month so that’s just a lot of steps that our bussing staff doesn’t have to take every single day,” Pizza Ranch co-owner Mike Pharis said.
The robots are programmed to deliver dirty plates and silverware from the dining areas to the dish room for washing, down the hallway.
“They’re very polite. They don’t get in your way too much. They will say ‘excuse me’ if they get stuck behind you. We have little kids coming up to hug them every now and then,” Pharis said.
Management says the robots are strictly here to help the wait staff and not put anyone out of a job.
“We kind of don’t see maybe that they’ve replaced an employee but they kind of make an employee’s job easier or make an employee more efficient so they can focus on some other things like helping our guest experience,” Pharis said.
Regular Pizza Ranch customers have gotten used to the robots making their rounds, but the ‘bots were more than a culinary curiosity at first.
“Other people have that same reaction like, oh! And then they look for staff, like are there still staff around? So, it’s been fun to see them,” customer Darcy Lassegard said.
The robots undergo regular maintenance so they can keep on their toes, or more accurately their wheels, for a 12-hour shift.
“We got to clean the wheels periodically. We got to wipe them down because they’ll get dirty every single night. But wear and tear, they’ve been pretty good,” Pharis said.
Sometimes the robots lose their bearings and require a GPS reboot.
“A lot of the trouble-shooting is just taking it back to a home spot, hitting two buttons and it re-localizes itself. So it’s all pretty easy to use,” Pharis said.
The robots have been so successful, they might just work themselves out of a job. The Pizza Ranch is looking at testing a third robot, one that’s much bigger and can handle larger loads. Possibly forcing these robots into an early retirement.
“They might go to Boca Raton. They might go play some golf. I’m not 100-percent sure when they take them back, when they’re going to go, but they’re living the good life here,”
The newest generation of restaurant robots are equipped with four shelves, instead of the current three.
“Just be able to hold more dirty dishes, little better designated spot for garbage and things like that. So, hopefully just make us even that much more efficient,” Pharis said.
The replacement robots may arrive later this summer. So for now, these robots are still gainfully employed, keeping the Pizza Ranch on the cutting edge of robotic technology, one slice, and one plate at a time.
“Have a good one. Enjoy.”
The Pizza Ranch leases the robots from a Texas company for about $800 a month. They eventually may decide to buy the robots outright, at a cost of around $13-thousand apiece.