HOUSTON, Texas — The University of Houston is testing a new research project they’re calling the "future of food service."
Eric’s restaurant on the University of Houston campus serves more than just a menu. It’s also a training ground for students studying hospitality at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership.
“The students feel like they own it. They work here. It’s their restaurant," Dean Dennis Reynolds said.
More than 80% of restaurant employees are students, but about a month ago, the university hired a new, robotic server.
“What we’re finding is guests in the restaurant are coming because of the robot," Reynolds said.
It’s a scene straight out of 'The Jetsons,' except unlike 'Rosie,' 'Servi' is the strong, silent type, unless you get in her way.
“Excuse me," 'Servi' said.
The university got the robot to give students hands-on training for tomorrow.
“My goal was to be the first restaurant in the city of Houston to have a robotic server," Reynolds said. “A lot of people, unfortunately, are teaching kind of what we did 20 years ago, and that’s not going to help the student 10 years from now. So we want the students to see what is the future and this is the future."
The robot is currently serving as a food runner at the restaurant. She’s first plated and then programmed. Once she arrives at the table, the waiter delivers the food.
“Press the number of the table that you’re sending to and press go," Executive Chef Tanner Lucas said. "What Servi is going to allow us to do is stay on the floor and really get to interact with our guests. And I think that’s where the heart of hospitality really lies.”
Servi is staying in the restaurant, but the university hopes to one day get more robots, possibly to help out with catering in the banquet halls or even room service in their hotel.
“Can you imagine going to a reception in our big ballroom and having this thing just passing hors d'oeuvres," Reynolds said.
And they’re not just putting the robot to work, they’re using it for research.
“The data will also tell us what guests think," Reynolds said.
And the possibilities are endless, because, ready or not, the future is here, no matter how you slice it.
“We just don’t know where this can go," Reynolds said.