As anyone familiar with the Terminator movies will be quite aware, the apocalypse began when automated restaurant waiter robots took over Los Angeles. It didn’t really, of course, but it very much might have done, had filmmaker James Cameron made a few tweaks at the early stages.
Nevertheless, the robots are here, they’re in Manchester. And they’re ready to bring ‘automation’ to the hospitality industry.
Robotic company Pudu Robotics has been a hit - and in some cases a miss - at the Northern Restaurant and Bar show, taking place at Manchester Central, where it has been showing off four of its hospitality robots, the first time they’ve been exhibited in the UK.
With its cat-like LCD face, the seemingly innocent BellaBot is a ‘premium delivery robot’, which can deliver dishes around a restaurant, carry a stack of trays, and map out the space as it goes.
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The KettyBot does the same job, but on a smaller scale, and can also be used as a ‘reception bot’, greeting guests and escorting them to their table, and with its big screen on the front, it can also be used as a roving advertising screen.
The Puductor 2 bot is a cleaning robot, which can clean and disinfect floors around hospitality spaces, while another, the HolaBot, can be ‘paged’ to arrive at a certain table, take away dirty plates and transport them to the kitchen.
David Ramsden, head of sales and marketing for the robot’s distributor Hutech Robotics, told the Manchester Evening News: “You’ve got a robot here that can serve 24 hours a day, if you want it to, seven days a week. It’s not going to ask for holidays, it’s not going to ask for sick pay, it’s not going to bother not turning up.
“From an HR point of view you’ve got something you can rely on every day.”
Not everyone is on board with the replacement of waiting staff with robots, least of all waiting staff, but Ramsden says it’s all about ‘redeployment’ rather than replacement.
“If you go to Tesco, you use a scanner rather than going to the check out. The automation is coming, it’s about embracing it, not getting rid of people, but redeploying them into better roles, giving them a better quality of work, and the customer a better experience."
The M.E.N has already encountered these automated hospitality staff at The Chinese Buffet restaurant in Wigan, however it was the quality of the food which sadly overshadowed the technology on the floor.
“When they trialed these at The Chinese Buffet in St Helens, they found that they did 67 miles in a week,” Ramsden went on. “That’s 67 miles that a waiter or waitress would be doing. So what we see happening is that you keep your front of house staff on the floor in the restaurant, and the robots do the running backwards and forwards.
“So these can give your front of house a big boost, you can interact with customers more, have more time to deal with their issues. For those who want to be served by a human and not a robot, they can be used purely as a runner, to take plates to and from the tables.”
But is this it? The beginning of how robots will eventually take over the world? Ramsden seems to think that it could be, and was even quite upbeat about it - perhaps because he’s already made friends with our new mechanical overlords.
“I’d like to think this is where it starts,” he said. “But we’re actually already late to the game, these are already in 60 countries around the world. It’s maybe where it starts in the UK.”