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Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, one of the biggest issues facing restaurants (beyond shutdowns and restrictions on service) is staffing. A labor shortage throughout the industry has led to a range of problems, including much longer wait times and incredibly frustrated customers.

This has led many restaurant owners to get creative and bring robot waiters into the mix. Not only do these high tech machines address labor shortages, but they also reduce human-to-human contact at a time when too many people in a small area could be a health risk. The reviews of this new technology have been decidedly mixed, but it may still be worth a closer look if your restaurant is struggling to stay fully staffed.

At Budget Branders, we understand how difficult it can be to run a small business. From handling staffing issues to getting the supplies you need at a fair price, entrepreneurs face challenges every day. We’re here to help, offering custom-branded disposables in quantities and at prices that make sense for your business.

What Is a Robot Waiter?

A robot waiter is exactly what it sounds like: a robot that takes orders and delivers food to diners at a restaurant. While these robot waiters generally do not take orders, they deliver food to customers and even take away dirty dishes. Of course, they don’t operate independently; restaurant staff are still necessary to load orders, tell the robot where to go, and put used dishes onto the robot.

Several companies make robot waiters. Typically, they look like rolling bookshelves, with shelves available to hold dishes (both coming and going). Beyond that, the aesthetics and features of the robots vary. 

For example, Bella is a robot waiter designed by Pudu Robotics that is designed to look like a cat. It features four trays, a touchscreen, and an infrared camera that allows it to navigate around the dining room. A staff member loads food for a table onto one of the trays, enters a table number, and Bella zooms off to deliver hot, fresh food.

Once Bella arrives at the table, it announces its presence: “Here I am! Hello, dear guest. Please pick up and don’t forget to hit confirm.” After the guest confirms that they got their order, Bella returns to the kitchen. If the guests forget to confirm on the touchscreen, Bella will return to the kitchen once it senses that its trays are empty.

Bella doesn’t just look like a cat – it also acts like one. After removing their tray, customers can pet the robot behind its ears to get it to purr. If customers pet Bella for too long, it shows irritation (like a real cat!) and returns to the kitchen.

A separate robot manufactured by Pudu Robotics, Hola, acts as a busboy. Hola has three large bins that can be filled with dirty dishes. It features gesture recognition, a high carrying capacity, and a voice control module.

Other companies make robot waiters with similar features, such as Matradee, manufactured by Richtech Robotics. Matradee can open kitchen doors and deliver as many as four trays of food orders to diners. It also functions as a busser, taking dirty dishes back to the kitchen. It is equipped with a pulsed laser to measure ranges so that it can easily maneuver around the dining room.

These robot waiters aren’t intended to replace employees. Instead, it supplements their work, allowing them to focus more on taking care of their customers – even when short-staffed.

Robot Waiters: Pros and Cons

Are robot waiters right for your restaurant? To decide, you’ll need to consider all of the benefits and drawbacks of bringing a robot into your business.

Robots are often cost-effective solutions to a labor shortage, and may even boost your profit margin. A Detroit-area restaurant spends about $800 per month for two robots (Bella and Hola), which is within the expected range of approximately $1,000 per month to bring on a robot waiter. Compared to the cost of one or more employees to perform the same function, these robots likely represent a massive cost saving.

Automating food service through robot waiters and bussers will also increase reliability. As long as staff inputs the correct order and sends it to the right table, there should be fewer errors in getting the proper order to customers.

Robot waiters may also increase efficiency. They can often carry far larger loads in a single trip, compared to human employees. At the same time, taking on the burden of carting dishes to and from the tables frees up staff to interact more with customers.

This brings up another important benefit: better tips for employees. One Florida restaurant found that its staff actually saw a salary increase when it brought on a robot waiter. The reason? Employees were able to spend more time with customers, and to serve more tables. This resulted in higher customer satisfaction and larger tips.

Finally, robot waiters may actually bring in business. Customers like new and interesting things, and having a robot on staff might get more people in your doors. Your clientele may also take lots of pictures and videos of the robot to post on social media – which will serve as free marketing for your business.

However, there are some drawbacks to using robot waiters. While some customers may enjoy the experience, others (particularly older diners) may be put off by a robot bringing them their food. They may not want to pull their own food out of the robot, or have to interact with a machine at all.

Staff who use these robots will also require training. The quality of that training – and staff’s attention to detail – may impact the efficiency of the robots. After all, if your staff isn’t careful about loading the robot and sending it to the correct table, then it won’t actually make your employees’ lives easier.

These robots also cannot respond to customer requests in the same way that an employee could. For example, if a robot brings food to the table, and a diner notices something wrong with their dish, they’ll have to flag down a waiter to get it fixed. This may lead to irate customers who aren’t happy that they had to take extra steps to get the correct dish.

The decision to use robot waiters (or not!) is a personal one that has to be made by each restaurant owner. While there are plenty of good reasons to join this wave of the future (particularly if labor shortages continue to be a problem), this trend isn’t for everyone.

Keep Your Restaurant Running Smoothly with Budget Branders

No matter what you decide about bringing on a robot waiter (or two), you’ll still need plenty of other high quality items to keep your business running strong. While we can’t help you choose the best robot waiter, we can provide you with a great selection of branded disposable products for your restaurant, bar, or coffee shop. Branded disposables may be the most cost-effective advertising you invest in. Drastically grow your brand reach and recognition as cups, bowls, and bags are carried out of your establishment and into the world.  

We know how hard it is to stay profitable as a small business. To support you, we offer a wide selection of custom printed disposable products, including soup and dessert cups, paper bags, plastic cups, coffee sleeves, and ripple cups. All of our products are offered in quantities and at prices that make sense for independently owned and operated restaurants.

If you’re ready to learn more about our products, fill out our online contact form. You can also hit the chat button to speak to someone about a quote for your business.