CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. — Whether it’s for fueling up to watch a football game or perfectly complimenting an ice cold beer, nothing quite hits the spot like the occasional order of chicken wings.

It’s a staple comfort food most people are at least familiar with, but unless they’ve been to one northern Kentucky restaurant, they’ve never had their wings cooked with the latest available in chicken wing technology: a robot named Lil’ Flip.

What You Need To Know

  • The Wings and Rings in Crestview Hills has a new wing-cooking robot

  • The restaurant chain worked with a California robotics company to bring the robot to northern Kentucky

  • The restaurant’s general manager says the robot is the first of its kind in the world

  • It uses AI and cameras to identify different foods, dropping them into appropriate deep fryer baskets

When William Stone brought in “Lil Flip” to join the kitchen staff at the Wings and Rings he manages in Crestview Hills, he wasn’t sure how the rest of the staff would react.

“They’ve taken to him very well. They understand that he is not here to replace jobs, but he is here to increase the efficiency of the kitchen. That was the number one worry when bringing him in, was the reaction from the staff, and it has just been nothing but positive,” Stone said.

It’s easy to see why. Lil’ Flip works long shifts with no pay and never complains—besides needing the occasional technical issue worked out.

He’s also an absolute machine, literally, for churning out chicken wing after chicken wing for hungry customers.

Lil’ Flip uses nine cameras and a robotic arm to cook chicken wings and other food items. (Spectrum News 1/Sam Knef)

“We are the first restaurant in the entire world to be serving chicken wings cooked with artificial intelligence. So we are pretty pumped about that here in little Crestview Hills, Kentucky. It’s definitely exciting,” Stone said. “Different concepts that I’ve worked at, they would have different pieces of machinery, and be like oh that’s pretty cool, that’s pretty cool. Then you walk back and you see this, and you’re like, ‘That’s freaking awesome.”’

The robot uses nine cameras to classify items, so whether customers are traditional, boneless, or even fried fish fans, Lil’ Flip’s robotic arm can drop the food into the appropriate basket for a scorching hot oil bath until it’s golden, crispy and, according to at least one diner, delicious.

The robot requires employees to operate it. (Spectrum News 1/Sam Knef)

“Very delicious," said Jessica Wylie, who was eating at Wings and Rings for the first time. "I thought it’s kind of funny that it’s made from a robot, so it’s really cool. I’m very impressed.”

Wings and Rings is a Cincinnati-based chain with over 80 locations around the country that’s been around since 1984. The company worked with California-based Miso Robotics, which designs robots for the restaurant industry, to bring Lil’ Flip aboard in Crestview Hills after a year and a half of testing.

The staff named it after Miso’s first burger-flipping robot, “Flippy.” Flippy’s namesake is, appropriately for the restaurant it’s in, programmed to cook wings.

Stone said his Wings and Rings is in a suitable spot after the challenges of the pandemic. Worries of machines replacing human jobs have been around for decades, but he assured his staff not to worry about job security.

“Amid the labor crisis, is it helping solve some of those efficiencies back there? Absolutely. But it still takes a designated person to run that machine,” he said.

Plus, Lil’ Flip can’t toss and sauce the wings. At least not yet.

Inevitable jokes about apocalyptic robot takeovers aside, Lil’ Flip will certainly not be the last of his kind to join a kitchen staff like the one at the Crestview Hills Wings and Rings.

But for now, that staff is proud to say he’s the first.

“We’re more excited, and more prideful that that’s the stamp that we can put on it. That’s what we can say, is that we’re the first,” Stone said.

Stone said he’s excited to see what the future is for the robot, which he said can do even more in the kitchen.