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Robot servers are rolling through Tampa Bay area restaurants

These AI-powered bots can carry food to tables, clear away dirty dishes and even greet customers in an effort to support the human servers.

TAMPA, Fla. — If a robot delivers your food to the table, do you still have to tip?

It's a question that more restaurant-goers in the Tampa Bay area may soon need to consider.

Two tech companies spoke about the future of robots in restaurants at a Florida-Israel Business Accelerator event Tuesday night in Tampa.

Bear Robotics introduced their first mass-produced robot Servi, which can autonomously carry food, drinks and dishes. The robot was even serving appetizers during the event's networking hour. 

And Servi has already landed itself a job in the Tampa Bay area, running food since February at Gecko's Grill & Pub on Hillview Street in Sarasota.

Anne Rollings, an executive at Gecko's Hospitality Group, says it all stemmed from the restaurant's long-time partnership with Pepsi. Their collaboration with Bear Robotics brought the robot to Gecko's for a pilot program.

Named "GQ92" after the restuarant's owners, the 73-pound bot is programmed with the entire layout of the restaurant, down to the table numbers. It can carry food to tables, clear away dirty dishes and even greet customers on its own — literally, GQ92 can say phrases like "excuse me" and "happy anniversary."

But, there's no need to worry about AI robots completely taking over the service industry. Their purpose is to support servers in a fun and futuristic way, not replace them.

“If you’re one of our servers, you can never overemphasize the importance of the guest connection and the human interaction in hospitality, so the bot was never intended to replace the server but just to help the server," Rollings said.

If you want the chance to be served by GQ92, it's currently being programmed to work at the Gecko's on Fruitville Road.

"It's been just a wonderful experience and it's probably going to continue to be something that you'll see — automated innovation in restaurants and lots of other industries," Rollings added.

Servi also did some work at Anna Maria Oyster Bar in Bradenton last year.

Plus, another tech company that spoke at the event, Xtend Robotics, has developed robots for the healthcare industry and is now expanding into the restaurant world. Equipped with AI-powered social interaction, its robot can keep food warm while serving tables, greeting diners and sanitizing trays.

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