Paschal’s restaurant “hires” a couple of robots

Charlene and Larry are hard at work at the historic Castleberry Hill restaurant

Paschal’s restaurant “hires” a couple of robots
Paschal’s Charlene or Larry—at your service

Photograph curtesy of Bear Robotics

One day in May, guests at Paschal’s, a historic Castleberry Hill restaurant, witnessed an extraordinary dance in the center of the dining room. Two food runners, Charlene and Larry, spun around each other trying to get to their respective tables. Inexperienced staff colliding is nothing new in the hospitality industry, but this was different. Charlene and Larry are robots.

“It looked like they were doing the tango,” says Chiquita Gaye, restaurant manager and events coordinator. “The music was going, they bumped heads a little bit, and the guests were laughing.”

Developed by Bear Robotics, an artificial intelligence company based in California, Charlene and Larry have worked at Paschal’s since 2022, carrying food to and from tables and serenading guests on their birthdays. They can deliver 10 full plates without the risk of human dropsies. But they do not transport beverages. “Our floors are marble and concrete, so they’re a bit uneven, and the drinks would spill,” Gaye explains.

Using robots reduces the stress and workload for servers and eases staff shortages. “It helps the restaurant be more efficient,” Gaye says. It’s also fun. “During Covid, we couldn’t go out or do anything. Afterward, we thought it would be something exciting and cool to bring to the restaurant,” she says. “This is family-oriented. It was really a no-brainer.”

Choosing the robots’ names boosted employee morale. “[The names] are random—the staff just thought they were cute,” Gaye says. And they’re not just for show: The robots respond when called. “Our general manager will be like, ‘Get Larry over here! What’s going on with him?’”

Tethered to the floor, Charlene and Larry are controlled by touch screens on their backs. They have weight sensors to indicate when all plates have been removed from their trays and they can return to the kitchen. Like all technology, they do malfunction from time to time, but they can be reset in five minutes. Bear Robotics monitors them remotely as well and can send commands via an Android app.

“They’re always working. They get time off when we close,” Gaye quips.

She’s seen guests express disappointment when a human brings their food, so it’s important to note that Larry and Charlene primarily work larger orders and entrees, not single sides or appetizers. However, if they’re not busy, they’re happy to oblige requests. “They bring people joy,” Gaye says.

This article appears in our October 2023 issue.