Boparan Restaurant Group is looking at how it can introduce robots to carry out a wider range of tasks following a successful trial at two of its Slim Chickens restaurants.

Speaking on a panel about harnessing automation technology at MCA’s Hostech conference last week, Ashleigh Telling, head of IT, Boparan Restaurant Group said it was looking at how service robots might work in the food courts it operates within Sainsbury’s, in terms food being delivered to tables.

It is also about to trial a robot designed to help with the cleaning of restaurants. “It sweeps and mops the floor, and you can leave it running overnight; we are about to trial that in Slims as well.

“We don’t hire chefs because they want to clean kitchens, we hire them to be chefs and do the skilled work, so if we can take those elements of the job away, let them focus on their core skills, then everyone is a bit happier.

Telling said the business was always looking at ways to improve the customer journey and had been exploring the use case for robots for several years before launching trials one year ago.

“Front of house robots appealed to us because we could put them into our restaurants quite seamlessly and could integrate them with what we were already doing,” she said.

The two restaurants the robots are currently located in are both long, narrow restaurants with tills at the from and kitchens at the back. Initially the idea was for the robots to simply taking delivery orders from the kitchens to the front of the restaurant, but the business then realised they could also be useful for the delivery of food trays and for clearing them from tables.

“We are not trying to take away people’s jobs – it’s about technology and humans working together,” she explained. “There is also a PR element to it too. We want to try new things and we want to be ahead of the curve. It’s a bit of fun as well.”

The robots are also capable of singing happy birthday, which the guests enjoy, and the company has also used them for VIP openings, loading them with champagne flutes.

Telling said the robots serve a useful purpose in sites that have a certain style of service – predominately QSR – and that it wasn’t currently looking to trial them in casual dining brands like Giraffe or Carluccio’s.

“But I think that will come in the future as more people get used to them, we might start going down that route as well.”

Also speaking on the panel was Xuefeng Bai, managing director, Din Tai Fung. The group, which has three sites in the UK said it was keen to embrace change and new ways of doing things, particularly after Covid, and that using robots in its restaurants has brought efficiencies as well as greater consistency.

“Especially when robots deliver food from the back of the restaurant, where they are travelling a long distance. It has four different trays so you can easily put four different tables together,” he explained.

“It’s a great complement to the team. It is working alongside them, and I think also a great experience for the customer.”

Bai said he believed there was still a lot of work it could do with robots front of house and had been discussing the prospect of introducing robot hosts.

“I think the key thing with technology is very much about trying to stay at the front of it and not shy away from it,” he added.