White Castle to Install Fry-Cooking Robot in 100 Restaurants

    "Flippy 2" promises to improve efficiency, product quality, and team member experience.

    Fast Food | February 15, 2022 | Danny Klein
    White Castle employee.
    White Castle/Miso Robotics
    Miso Robotics claims Flippy 2 performs more than twice as many food preparation tasks compared to the previous version, including basket filling, emptying, and returning.

    Fresh off its 100th year in business, White Castle is gearing up for one of the largest robotic rollouts in quick-service history. The chain on Tuesday announced plans to install Miso Robotics’ “Flippy 2” in 100 standalone locations.

    White Castle and Miso Robotics began working together in September 2020 with the original “Flippy” at a Chicagoland restaurant. Following a November 2021 upgrade to Flippy 2, White Castle began seeing impacts with potential to scale, the company said. In fact, many of the model improvements stemmed directly from White Castle feedback.

    While Flippy’s first iteration helped employees stay in designated locations, workers noted a need for human assistance on both sides of the robot—from the initial point of contact with the uncooked product to when the cooked food gets placed in the holding area—requiring one or two employees at several steps. Basket management wasn’t automated, so the cooking process didn’t end up as seamless as possible.

    That’s where the Flippy 2 refresh locked into place. The robot, which takes over the fry station in an effort to free up workers for other tasks, added an “AutoBin” system for lower volume and specialty foods such as onion rings or chicken tenders. Each bin could now hold as much as a full fry basket, and also be customized for a kitchen’s specific needs, or delineated for individual products such as vegetables and fish to prevent cross-contamination.

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    Miso Robotics claims Flippy 2 performs more than twice as many food preparation tasks compared to the previous version, including basket filling, emptying, and returning.

    Once the product is placed in the bin, AI vision identifies the food, picks it up, cooks in the correct fry basket, and places in into a hot-holding area.

    Eliminating the transfer lessens human-to-food contact and decreases potential oil dripping and burns caused by lifting and moving baskets, the company added. And to findings from White Castle’s pilot, it’s now a closed-loop system where Flippy 2 operates on its own without human intervention in the middle of the process. The end result being throughput 30 percent higher (roughly 60 baskets per hour). Additionally, Flippy 2 takes up less space in the kitchen, including 56 percent reduced aisle intrusion and 13 percent height reduction.

    The size was one particular hurdle White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson shared with QSR last year.  He noted the new model was going to have the robotic arm inward and provide better quarter for passage. Importantly, it would “require even less human guidance or interaction.”

    Miso Robotics/White Castle
    Miso Robotics
    Miso Robotics

    Flippy 2 takes up less space, is more efficient, and is now headed to 100 White Castles.

    The fact White Castle is family run and owned, Richardson added, played a key role in the methodical approach. “We don’t feel a Wall Street pressure or anything like, we need to do this overnight,” he said. “We’re really putting in a lot of time and energy working with them in real time to get to what we think might be perfection. And then, we’ll hit play in terms of adding more.”

    The innovation also speaks to White Castle’s overall direction of late—that 2022 is “year 1 of the rest of our lives,” Richardson said. The unique ability to couple 10 decades of equity with an eye to the future.

    “It’s been a really great metaphor for turning 100,” he said, “to have something brand new on the cutting edge and ahead of the curve a little bit.”

    “Our partnership with Miso continues to lead the way on what’s next for back of house restaurant operations looking to empower team members with technology to better satisfy customers,” said Jeff Carper, White Castle COO, in a statement. “Having Flippy 2 be a new hire at 100 of our White Castle locations keeps us on a path to achieve big goals at White Castle.”  

    “We could not be more grateful for the confidence White Castle has shown in us as we enter into the next phase of our partnership,” added Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics. “White Castle was the first large brand to embrace our technology and we are thrilled that our Flippy pilot made such a positive impact on their operations that they want to integrate 100 more. We can’t wait to continue on this journey with such an outstanding partner.”

    With more than 15,000 shareholders, Miso Robotics has raised more than $50 million in crowdfunding to date and is currently in its Series E round, which kicked off with a market valuation of $500 million. 

    White Castle’s commitment to employee productivity and satisfaction is nothing new. There are 10,000 employees at White Castle, and one in four have been with the burger chain for 10 or more years. Of 450 leadership and above positions (GMs, district supervisors, and regional directors), 442 started behind the counter and worked their way up.

    In 2021, White Castle earned a “Great Place to Work Certification” based on a “Trust Index” survey conducted among the company’s employees. Eighty-one percent called White Castle a “great place to work”—22 percentage points higher than the average for U.S.-based companies.