Fri, 08 Dec 2023

LOS ANGELES, California: With labor shortages hitting the global restaurant industry in recent years, many restaurants are tapping robot servers as the solution, with sales of robots growing rapidly worldwide.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this is where the world is going," said Dennis Reynolds, dean of the Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership at the University of Houston, as quoted by the Associated Press.

After the school's restaurant began using a robot in December, Reynolds says it has made service more efficient and eased the workload on human staff.

However, others involved have stressed that robot servers are just a gimmick and will not replace human staff in the near future.

Craig Le Clair, vice president with the consulting company Forrester, which studies automation, said, "Restaurants are pretty chaotic places, so it is very hard to insert automation in a way that is really productive," as reported by the Associated Press.

Despite these reservations, the number of robots being used in the restaurant industry is increasing.

Bear Robotics, based in Redwood City, California, launched its Servi robot in 2021 and expects to sell 10,000 by the end of this year in 44 US states and around the world.

Meanwhile, rival Pudu Robotics, based in Shenzen, China and founded in 2016, has sold more than 56,000 robots around the world.

Phil Zheng of Austin-based robot server-manufacturer Richtech Robotics said, "Every restaurant chain is looking toward as much automation as possible. People are going to see these everywhere in the next year or two," according to the Associated Press.

However, interactions with human servers can vary. Betzy Giron Reynosa, a staff member who works with a robot at The Sushi Factory in West Melbourne, Florida, said, "You cannot really tell it to move or anything."

However, overall, the robot is a plus, as it saves her trips back and forth to the kitchen and gives her more time with customers, she added.

Le Clair said that labor shortages have accelerated the adoption of robots around the world, with a recent survey showing 62 percent of restaurant operators have stated that they do not have enough staff to meet customer demand.

Karthik Namasivayam, director of The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University's Broad College of Business, said that the groundwork for the adoption of robot servers was established by COVID-19 pandemic-related hygiene concerns and the adoption of new technologies, such as QR code menus, as reported by the Associated Press.

Public acceptance of robot servers is high in Asia, he added, noting that Pizza Hut already has robot servers in 1,000 restaurants in China, but the US has been slower to adopt them.

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