Beat of Laurel Sunny
Sunny, the robot server
Photo Credit: Bob Reilly

Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I profiled a robot for a story, so here we go.

I’ve seen so many creative ways the food service industry has evolved over the course of my lifetime. Many former walk-in-only restaurants and fast-food chains have added drive-throughs. Initially, you placed your order at the same window where you paid and received your food. Now, you can order and pay for your food on a mobile app so you can just pick up your food and roll. Some food places have added multiple drive-through lanes to serve customers faster. 

Restaurant servers frequently have worn theme-based outfits to coincide with a particular event or even the theme of the restaurant or chain over time. I remember servers on roller skates, in tuxedos, miniskirts, sombreros — you name it. If you can imagine it, it has very likely been tried in the industry.

Remember the short-lived welcome at your local Roy Rogers chain?

Servers wearing cow-person hats would greet customers with a sometimes not-so-enthusiastic “Howdy Partner!”  Likely, this greeting was overlooked by customers or prompted a response such as “Huh? Can I just get some food?”

That little innovation quickly found itself piled upon the trash heap of history.

And so, it was my pleasure recently to meet Sunny, the robot server. Sunny happily resides at our neighborhood Denny’s on Washington Boulevard, here in Laurel. I found Sunny a fresh face in this age of robots and artificial intelligence.

Let me say that Sunny, who proudly wears the badge declaring “Hi, I’m Sunny,” is a bit (or should I say bot?) shy and wasn’t ready to be interviewed. So, through in-person and text conversations , Gabi Castaneda,,the general manager at Denny’s, shared what it’s like to have Sunny on board. Castaneda has been with Denny’s since 2011 and at the Laurel location since 2019.

“Sunny is used to help the serving load, and increase fast service time during busy hours,” she said. “The company Bear Robotics teamed up with Denny’s corporate, and offered each franchise the opportunity to buy in. Some Denny’s locations opted out.”

I asked Castaneda how the customers have reacted to Sunny as part of the team.

“Most people respond with excitement and want to take pictures or videos,” she said. “The children love Sunny the robot and have requested to come back to see the robot. Sunny is polite and will ask you to remove your food or ask the staff to clear her path on the way to the tables. Sunny says other things like, ‘Thank you,’ ‘Have a good one’ and even does ‘The Birthday Song.”

Castaneda continued, “Some people think Sunny is taking someone’s job away. However, we have increased our staff here at Denny’s Laurel. Sunny helps our staff as needed.”

Finally, I questioned Castaneda about any unusual or humorous moments with Sunny.

“Sunny gets lost sometimes, and that’s funny. We joke that Sunny is getting bossy when we are in the way and says to us, “Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me” until we finally move out of the way. Sometimes, Sunny gets confused when maneuvering around something and turns from side to side repeatedly. It makes us laugh. We call it the Sunny Dance!

So, go visit Sunny at Denny’s and enjoy the dance.

As I wrote this story, I was smiling. I guess you could say, Sunny brightened up my day.