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Tech roundup: Restaurants find the droids they're looking for

Robots are making another leap. Also, tech acquisitions continue, Butler Hospitality raises $35 million and more.
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Photo illustration by Nico Heins

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For the past couple of years, restaurant robots have been talked about in terms of their potential. We've written about dozens of robot pilots, funding rounds and prototypes that promise to solve a variety of issues for restaurants, without having much to share in the way of real-world evidence. 

Now, many of those hypotheticals are starting to bear fruit as restaurants move out of pilot mode into full-fledged adoption. Last week, The Halal Guys revealed plans to put drink-mixing robots from Botrista in all of its restaurants after tests showed the bots contributed to an average-check increase of 20%. Meanwhile, digital restaurant company C3 is rolling out robot delivery in Los Angeles. The bots from Coco deliver food 30% faster for up to half the cost to the restaurant, C3 said.

Those are just a couple examples of robots becoming firmly established in restaurants. There's also Sweetgreen's acquisition of Spyce—a strategic deal that was mentioned repeatedly in the salad chain's IPO filing last week. And then there are the many chains planning to launch automated kiosks.

Restaurant robots are really happening (at least in chains). And the industry's ongoing labor deficit could speed things up further.

"I think there’s going to be a lot more widespread adoption just simply because of the labor situation," Melissa Wilson, principal with Technomic, told me last week.

"And there will be much less consumer backlash or concern about (robots taking human) jobs," she added. "Consumers are very frustrated by slow service or restaurants not being open or limiting service."

HungerRush acquired Menufy. The provider of POS systems, online ordering and other tech for restaurants said adding the online ordering company will expand its offering and reach in the industry. Together, the companies will work with 20,000 restaurants, which will now have access to HungerRush's full product line. Menufy is primarily focused on independents. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Butler Hospitality raised $35 million. The tech company takes a ghost kitchen-like approach to hotel room service, operating restaurants inside of centrally located hotels while also providing "virtual" room service from the restaurant to other nearby properties. The idea is to help the central hotel make the most of underutilized space and give surrounding hotels the ability to add room service. Butler is in 12 U.S. markets including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. 

P.F. Chang's is using Cartwheel to power self-delivery. The Asian casual-dining chain has aggressively pursued a DIY delivery strategy, and is expanding its partnership with the delivery management system to help. Cartwheel offers things like a driver app and dispatch software for restaurants with their own fleets. It's now in place at 100 P.F. Chang's locations.

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