The rapid progression of technology means that concepts once in the realm of science fiction are gradually becoming reality. One example is robot waiters. Seeing robots deliver food might seem like something out of cheesy movies from the 1980s, but they are now a functioning reality in the hospitality industry.
So what is the current status of robot waiters in restaurants? How do they work, could you implement one in your venue, and how much would it cost you to do so?
Read on for all the information restaurant owners and managers need on robot waiters.
What is a robot waiter?
Robot waiters are exactly what they sound like. They are automated machines that are designed to replicate the role of waiters as much as possible.
At present, the functionality of robot waiters is generally limited to delivering food and removing dirty dishes. However, companies are hard at work to expand the abilities of robots to effectively eliminate the need for human front of house staff members.
Naturally, robot waiters are an attractive prospect for hospitality business owners. Robot waiters can work full days without the need to take a break. One popular machine, Bellabot, can be rented for as little as USD$1,215 a month (just over $40 a day in a 30-day month), making it a much cheaper alternative to paying a human worker even minimum wage.
How do robot waiters work?
Robot waiters are often capable of greeting customers, with some having a screen simulating a face. Robot waiters typically have trays built into their bodies. Often, a staff member loads food onto the waiter, and customers take their food themselves.
These machines use self-driving technology to navigate restaurants, similar to the functionality utilised by robotic vacuum cleaners. Some include LIDAR or AI-powered self-driving for more advanced obstacle avoidance.
The vast majority of robot waiters do not have the capacity to take orders. Many restaurants can get around this with the increasing popularity of ordering via QR codes and online menus. Since most robot waiters operate on wheels, stairs and outdoor areas can still represent major challenges.
The technology at work in robot waiters is not quite as groundbreaking as some might think. This means that for many restaurant owners, human front of staff workers will still be a necessity for some time.
However, it also raises interesting questions as to how disruptive these machines could prove to be with further investment. While robot waiters are currently an interesting novelty, how earth-shattering could they be with more humanoid designs and the ability for AI-powered interactions with guests?
Examples of robot waiters
Here are some of the most popular robot waiters on the market today. Keep in mind that the availability of different robot waiters can vary greatly depending on your location.
BellaBot is produced by Pudu Robotics. It is in place in many restaurants around the globe and features a simple but attractive design.
Its screen face features a cat-like design, which can help customers forge a greater connection with the machine. It speaks to customers, often addressing them as "Dear guest".
BellaBot uses a range of advanced navigation solutions to help it move around restaurants more easily. It can also respond to touch in a range of ways, like changing the expression displayed on its screen and saying phrases.
In terms of table-waiting functionality, BellaBot rolls on wheels and features several trays for waitstaff or customers to load and unload dishes. It is simple in this respect, but stands apart from the competition with a greater level of interactivity.
BellaBot is also designed to work well in a fleet, with different models able to quickly communicate with each other and avoid collisions. BellaBot retails at around USD$16,000, with rentals available for $1,215 a month.
The Matradee X is produced by Richtech Robotics and is similar to BellaBot in several ways. It rolls on wheels and features rows of trays in its body.
Matradee X uses Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and AI camera technology to avoid obstacles and navigate a dining room. You can purchase a number of these robots for your business and program them to work together seamlessly, which Richtech suggests will "[pave] the way for a fully autonomous restaurant."
Matradee X offers 12 hours of battery life and has a carrying capacity of 88 pounds (40 kilograms). For pricing, contact the Richtech Robotics team at the company's website.
Servi is produced by Bear Robotics. This line features 2 models, Servi and Servi Mini. Both models feature small and unobtrusive designs.
Servi utilises LIDAR to navigate spaces intelligently and uses internal weight sensors to automatically return to its post when dishes have been removed. It features trays for delivering dishes and can collect plenty of dirty dishes with bussing tubs.
Like BellaBot and Matradee, Servi models are designed to function well with a number of robots in your restaurant. Servi can operate for 12 hours after 4 hours of charging and can be leased for as little as USD $ 750 a month.
How much do robot waiters cost?
The cost of renting or leasing a robot waiter generally comes in at around USD$750-$1,500 a month. Purchasing a robot waiter outright generally costs around USD$10,000-$20,000, though some very simple models are available for less.
Robot waiters pros and cons for restaurant owners
Now that you have a firm understanding of the role robot waiters are playing in the hospitality industry, you probably cannot help but wonder what it would be like to utilise them in your venue. Before jumping into a decision, we have assembled some pros and cons to consider.
Robot waiter pros
Machines like BellaBot can be rented for as little as USD$1,215 a month, and are able to work endlessly for as long as their battery life allows. Robot waiters take care of jobs that may allow you to cut down on your workers and thus your labour costs.
Avoid labour shortages
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, labour shortages have been harshly felt across the hospitality industry. While the restaurant industry is now recovering in this area, it has served as a stark reminder of how unanticipated circumstances can impact businesses.
Robot waiters can therefore serve as excellent insurance against future events such as COVID lockdowns. Hospitality is a famously turbulent industry, and having access to mechanical employees who can work 24/7 can create greater peace of mind.
Robot waiters are still a rare sight for many customers. Utilising them in your restaurant can be a great source of novelty and interest for customers and the media.
Simply type "robot waiters" into a search engine, and you will likely be bombarded with press coverage of local restaurants that have implemented them.
Even with the current, rudimentary nature of robot waiters, utilising them in your venue can be a great way to get eyeballs on your business and customers in your seats.
Help workers achieve higher customer satisfaction
Some manufacturers of robot waiters argue that their products are not designed to replace human employees at all. Instead, they take care of more menial tasks allowing workers to focus on human-to-human interactions with customers.
In fact, robot waiters can even serve to benefit your human employees in this area. One Florida restaurant chain even claimed that staff received even bigger tips once they began using a robot waiter.
Restaurant chain owner Carlos Gazitua attributed this to human staff having more time to speak to and connect with customers while the robot waiter took care of less significant jobs.
Robot waiter cons
While robot waiters may someday totally change the face of the hospitality industry, it appears that time is not around the corner. At present, robot waiters are still in their infancy and you may find their functionality more modest than you expect.
The majority of robot waiters still require customers or staff members to load and unload their contents. The fact that robot waiters still rely on wheels to move around makes venues with stairs and outdoor areas challenging to navigate. The implementation of robot waiters has the potential to disappoint business owners and customers alike.
Loss of personalisation
The Oxford Dictionary defines hospitality as "the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers." While steps have been taken to make some robot waiters less cold and impersonal, it is virtually impossible for a robot to create the same warm and inviting sense of hospitality as your staff.
It is worth remembering that your current employees, unions and the general public may not be thrilled about the automation of hospitality work. Needless to say, employee morale may suffer as they gradually watch their colleagues be laid off as robots are brought in to take their place.
Pew Research has found that around 82% of Americans anticipate widespread job automation in the coming decades, with most expecting outcomes to be more negative than positive. Therefore, the adoption of extensive automation in your restaurant may present challenges for consumer sentiment towards your business.
Implement technology in your restaurant with ResDiary
Whether or not robot waiters are in your venue's near future, there is always room for the further uptake of technology in your restaurant.
ResDiary serves as an excellent hub for implementing technology in your business. Its digital table management system makes reservation maintenance a breeze, especially with the help of ResPhone, an automated phone reservation service.
Learn about integrating technology into your restaurant by viewing our on-demand webinar, "2024 Technology Trends for Hospitality."