A robot delivers food at Yangfang Shengli Original Restaurant. (Wikimedia Commons)

Opinion

Opinion: What is the future of robot waiters?

Food delivery bots provide a contactless dining experience but can often result in restaurant staff cuts.
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November 15, 2021
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, robot waiters were first introduced as interactive assistants for any service sector. As more customers are seeking a contactless experience in restaurants, robot waiters once again aroused the interest of innovators and restaurants.

As of January 2019, robot waiters were already embedded in a Chinese hotpot chain named Haidilao. This smart project was initiated by Haidilao and Panasonic.

In 2019, the head of the tech innovation center Zhu MengYi told China Global Television Network, “Back in 2016, we conducted a lot of research into smart restaurants in Europe and Japan. But we found there was very little to refer to. The restaurants had some smart technology, but not for the whole system. That’s why we had to take it step by step on our own.”

With the handful of hotpot restaurants, customers are constantly looking for something unique, and robot waiters are one of the strategies Haidilao adapts to differentiate themselves from others. Haidilao has become an attraction for both Chinese and foreigners.

A South Korean customer told CGTN in 2019, “I have never heard of the smart restaurant in South Korea, and this is my first experience here. I was so surprised to see robots serving food here.”

Another significant benefit for robot waiters is cutting down expenses on hiring employees. Robot waiters are priced around $8,220 each, according to Nikkei Asia. The average annual salary of a waiter in the United States is $23,717, according to ZipRecruiter. This suggests a difference of $15,479. Restaurants could spend this money on marketing, expanding, or anything else that is beneficial for the restaurant.

However, the widespread use of robot waiters is a danger for traditional human waiters. Zhu MengYi claimed “we’ve cut nearly 30 percent of our kitchen staff as we’ve handed some of their jobs to the robots. Inside the kitchen, we also have several monitors to track the information of each dish, like when certain ingredients will expire.”

The biggest innovation here is we’ve cut nearly 30% of our kitchen staff as we’ve handed some of their jobs to the robots,” Zhu MengYi told CGTN. Inside the kitchen, we also have several monitors to track the information of each dish, like when certain ingredients will expire.

As of 2020, there are more than 2 million waiters in the United States. If the jobs of 30% of waiters in the United States were to be replaced by robots in the same way Zhu MengYi cut kitchen staff, around 600,000 would lose their jobs. 

Luckily, robot waiters are not capable of acting like traditional waiters, but what will happen once robot waiters are fully developed and implemented? Some customers expressed their concern towards privacy. The camera that allows the robot waiters to detect objects can be hacked and compromised, causing security and privacy issues. General malfunctions may also occur that can mess up the system that was initially created to deliver food. 

All in all, robot waiters could be a huge step in the restaurant industry, but also a threat to traditional waiters. The concept of a robot waiter still remains as a questionable decision. Some people prefer to have human interaction with their waiters, and some technological obstacles have yet to be overcome. Only time will tell what the future holds for us. 

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