"Flippy 2" will help streamline labor and improve consistency.
Wings and Rings recently lifted the lid on a partnership with Miso Robotics to begin a piloted test of Flippy 2, one of Miso’s flagship products, in its Crestview Hills, Kentucky location. The deal will make Wings and Rings the first brand to use Flippy 2 in an active restaurant environment, rather than a test kitchen, the chain claims.
Flippy 2, the second iteration of Flippy—Miso’s robotic arm capable of automating certain back-of-house tasks, such as working the fryer—will help usher in a new era of automation at Wings and Rings. Bob Bafundo, the brand’s chief operating officer, says the partnership will improve operations at the sport-themed restaurant in several ways.
“Miso is the top shelf of restaurant robotics vendors out there, and as we began to know them and establish a relationship with them, we really felt like they’d be the perfect partner to help us,” Bafundo says. “They’ve been absolutely phenomenal in terms of taking their technology and adapting it and customizing It to what we were trying to accomplish.”
Flippy 2 made its Wings and Rings debut in early July at the company-owned store. Bafundo, who formerly served as president of Pizza Inn, says it was important to test Miso’s star attraction in a live setting, compared to a controlled test kitchen, because “you have a little higher sense of urgency when you have to fix things in a restaurant.”
“Part of our motivation was to figure out a way we could take these potential benefits and start to deliver them to either our company operated restaurants or franchisees,” he says. “We didn’t want to do a press release telling everybody we were working on it in a test kitchen because we’re really after the benefits at the restaurant level.”
To start, Bafundo says Flippy 2 will help with execution. The automation allows for a high quality, dependable product.
“We feel that’s one of the ways we separate ourselves from the competition,” Bafundo says. “We saw this [the addition of Flippy 2] as a catalyst to help us continue to maintain and improve product quality going forward.”
Flippy 2 relies on a system of cameras, data, and machine learning, and can complete scheduled tasks in a more precise manner than its human counterparts, the company says.
Bafundo notes this is aided, in part, to the fact Flippy 2 has zero distractions. There isn’t small talk or other responsibilities keeping the robotic arm from cooking food. “It doesn’t even have to move from one end of the kitchen to the other,” he says. “It’s always right where it needs to be.”
Bafundo adds Flippy 2’s ability to execute and improve product quality is almost, if not more, vital than how it can alleviate labor pressures.
“We first saw this as a way to continue our focus and strategy on efficiency and looking for the optimal way to improve operations at the restaurant level,” he says. “The second way we looked at this was as a means of taking some of the work and complexity out of the back of the house.”
Making sure wings are prepared to exact specifications is only one element of how Flippy 2 will do so. Part of the product any restaurant produces is the experience customers leave with, Bafundo says. And it’s been increasingly difficult for brands to offer customers top-notch experiences because of staffing shortages.
Bafundo says the automation frees up employees and allows managers to redeploy labor to much-needed areas, particularly in the front of house, where a good or bad experience can be the difference between a one-time visit versus a regular customer.
After a week in action, Bafundo says Flippy 2 managed to tackle all the challenges thrown its way. There were initial concerns about the robot being able to handle some of the more complex recipes and menu items, but those concerns were alleviated within a week. Bafundo thinks Flippy 2’s role in the kitchen will become more defined as future fine-tuning takes place, which will allow the brand to then focus on concerns such as labor savings and other operational efficiencies.
“We were also concerned with how our kitchen crew would view it and if they would be worried about it taking their jobs,” Bafundo says. “That hasn’t been the case at all. They’ve embraced it and are very excited about it.”
There is not an exact timeline for how long Wings and Rings plans on testing Flippy 2 at the Crestview Hills store. Bafundo says it could run for as long as six months. While it’s too early to predict when the technology will be operating in other locations, the COO says he believes this type of automation is where the space is headed.
“From my vantage point, that’s what I see,” he says. “I’ve been in the lab at Miso and I’ve seen some of the stuff they’re working on and I think like any technology, I expect it to get better and better, to become more efficient, and probably more affordable as time goes on. It looks like the future of the industry.”