One Month Later: Wings and Rings Shares Update on Robot Pilot
Last month, Wings and Rings began testing Miso Robotics’ Flippy 2 in its Crestview Hills, Kentucky location. HT checked in with Bob Bafundo, COO of Wings and Rings, to get a progress report.
“What attracted us was the quality of Miso Robotics and its work,” Bafundo explained. “It was a good opportunity for us to stick our toe in the water of robotics. Our initial focus was around labor reduction: how to take hours out of operations and make it easier for managers with staff challenges in the BOH.”
So far Flippy 2 has been relegated to cooking bone-in and boneless wings, a critical task for a restaurant with "Wings" in its name.
There is the possibility of expanding Flippy’s job description to include Wings and Rings' entire fried foods menu. “We are doing it in phases,” Bafundo said of the rollout. “We are not using it at full capacity yet.”
About a month later, Flippy “has been performing well. We continue to monitor results and see how it goes,” Bafundo said. “We’ve learned some things along the way. Our objectives have changed,” he said.
With Flippy 2 automating the fry station, “We have a consistent, high-quality product.
“Our primary objective now is to deliver our product on a consistent, high-quality basis. This has been a big win for us. Secondly, hospitality is an industry is struggling with staffing. We feel brands that will survive and thrive going forward will need to deliver on guest service,” Bafundo said.
With Flippy on the fry station, Wings and Rings will be able to redeploy labor into a guest-facing position.
Reducing friction in the employee experience is front of mind for many restaurants including Wings and Rings.
“We continue to analyze to how can we simplify our operations, or shorten prep or cook times,” Bafundo said. One possibility is using clamshell grills instead of a straight flat top.
“We are analyzing ways to take work out of the kitchen to improve employee efficiency and to improve the work experience,” he added.
Now Testing: Pay at the Table
In September 2020, Wings and Rings rolled out a new prototype in Milford, Ohio. Known internally as G4, the prototype includes a valet pickup lane for off-premises orders, and the new design has “kindled interest” in franchise development both from existing franchisees and prospective franchisees, said Bafundo.
Future iterations of the design will include a self-service component. “We view self-pay at the table as our no. 1 objective and our second objective is self-ordering,” said Bafundo. This is in the test phase in a couple of stores.
“Pay at the table (PATT) will let the guests determine the length of visit,” he said. No one likes to wait. PATT will help shave minutes off guests visits by eliminating the wait time for servers to ferry the credit card back and forth to the POS, leading to quicker table turns and greater guest satisfaction.
The test of Flippy 2 and tableside payment are only two of the recent technology updates at the Cincinnati-based sports restaurant franchise.
A new POS and KDS was implemented in 2021. The KDS is especially helpful with quality control and staff training; it has the ability to pull up a recipe, view the build chart and photo of the finished item. Also, last summer Wings and Rings rolled out a new learning management program, World Manager, that lets the company communicate to employees through their smart phones. Now employees have the ability to access training materials in the palm of their hands.
The company is considering implementing additional workforce tech. “Gamification is on our radar screen,” Bafundo said. With a menu that is focuses on protein and sauces, “our needs are not as strong as a pizza or sandwich concept (that have complicated build charts.) Yet we do see an opportunity for gamification with our sandwiches.”