A Chinese restaurant chain in the north west of England has been forced to make use of robotic waiters, after struggling for staff during the Covid pandemic.
Directors at The Chinese Buffet unleashed one BellaBot in each of four restaurants in Liverpool, St Helens, Bolton and Wigan, to serve food to diners.
When the buffet re-opened after the last lockdown, its owners decided to serve food to people at the table, ordered via an app, rather than allow them to serve themselves.
This added an extra strain on the already short waiting staff, according to owners Paolo Hu and Peter Wu, who said the BellaBots had already proved popular with diners.
The guide price for the friendly-faced robots is $20,000 (£14,500), which is less than the cost of employing a waiter at minimum wage for 40 hours per week.
Quirky footage shows Bella, who features a wide-eyed feline face, sweeping across the restaurant floor dishing out delicacies to delighted customers.
A Chinese restaurant chain in the north west of England has been forced to make use of robotic waiters, after struggling for staff during the Covid pandemic
Fung laing, Kamilla Waluck, Joseph Telford, with owner Paolo Hu and restaurant manager Yuki Lee) pose with BellaBot, brought in due to Covid staff shortages
HOW THE BELLABOT WORKS
Customers place an order for food using the app, which goes to the kitchen staff.
They then place the food on one of four shelves on the BellaBot.
It goes to a table and lights up the shelf that has their food on it.
Bella then says to the diners, for example: ‘Table 52 please take plates from the shelf with the blue light’.
It is able to move on to up to three other tables in a single outing from the kitchen, repeating the process.
In an average week during trials, BellaBot covered 67 miles.
The robot can talk to diners and even sing Happy Birthday when required.
It costs an estimated £14,500 for a single BellaBot, which is less than full time minimum wage for a human employee.
The restaurant, like many others around the world, has battled with low staff numbers since reopening after the pandemic, made worse by employees having to isolate due to the Omicron variant of Covid.
It meant that as more things opened up and got busier, the restaurant struggled to find enough servers to keep up with demand.
The Chinese Buffet spokesman David Ramsden said the BellaBot has proved to be a novel solution to the ongoing staffing problem.
He said that ‘customers love it,’ adding ‘we have people doing TikToks, others saying the children loved the robot.
‘It’s quirky and really interesting. It’ll attract people to come to the restaurant to see the robot serving. It’s a good pull for people into restaurants.’
Families come in specifically to see Bella, and when it is someone’s birthday, the robot can join human staff at the table to sing Happy Birthday to the diners, the owners said.
‘During the covid pandemic, the buffets were closed even when restaurants were open because people needed to remain seated,’ Mr Ramsden explained.
‘Rather than being a [traditional] buffet, it became a table-service buffet. You order via the app and it was delivered directly to your table.’
This put more pressure on the waiting staff, as previously customers would go up and collect their own food, requiring fewer waiters.
Directors at The Chinese Buffet unveiled one BellaBot in each of four restaurants in Liverpool, St Helens, Bolton and Wigan, to serve food to diners in place of humans
When the buffet re-opened after the last lockdown, the restaurant chain decided to serve food to people at the table, ordered via an app, rather than allow them to serve themselves
In their testing stages, staff at The Chinese Buffet found that Bella covers 67 miles per week on average, while moving around the restaurant.
Bella has four shelves meaning she can serve four tables at once and even talk to diners in the process.
Customers place their order using The Chinese Buffet app, and the food arrives on Bella’s shelves at the table – coming out ‘tapas style’.
‘You order a number of dishes and it’s an unlimited dining experience. You order in lots of three, then you can order again and again,’ explained Mr Ramsden.
‘The order goes to the kitchen via the app. Prior to robots, the order would be put together and the waiting staff would take it to the table.
In their testing stages, staff at The Chinese Buffet found that Bella covers 67 miles per week on average, while moving around the restaurant
Bella has four shelves meaning she can serve four tables at once and even talk to diners in the process
ROBOT MASSAGE TABLE SHOWN AT CES
Massage and comfort played a big part in the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), including the launch of a fully automated massage table.
Unveiled by Massage Robotics, the full body massage robot was designed to be placed in a massage salon and help those resistant to a human masseuse.
The startup built the robot with two arms, covering a seven square foot area to understand verbal commands.
It has a neural network that allows it to exchange data in real time and respond to the needs and demands of the user.
The robots arms can operate in 6-axis and work together to create an ideal massage routine for the person on the table, drawing from a database.
It can control location, duration, path, speed and force based on the needs, including removing knots from the back.
Users will also be able to share their favourite routines, and select the ones they want to use from a library on a smartphone.
It does come with a hefty price tag, as it is aimed at the commercial, rather than home market, with a base model costing $310,000 (£228,000).
‘Now, there are four shelves on Bella. You can programme it so she goes to table 57, table 43. A different order is on different shelves.
‘When she gets to the table, she says ‘table 52, please take your food from the shelf with the blue light’. The shelf lights up to show which is your food.’
He said that while the robots are serving tables, it frees up staff time to interact with the customers and address their ’emotional issues’.
This includes complaints, or additional needs, including dietary requirements.
‘I was in Wigan on Sunday evening talking to the managers there and they wouldn’t do without them now,’ Mr Ramsden said, adding ‘they were skeptical to start with but since they’ve had them, they make a massive difference.
‘When I talk to people, there are two challenges. People say they don’t want to be served by robots, they want to be served by people.
‘Of course, we all do, but just because the robots are there it doesn’t mean the humans aren’t. It eases pressure on the staff and they can stay on the restaurant floor and interact with the customers.’
‘In trials, the robot did 67 miles a week,’ he said, adding ‘that’s 67 miles that staff would be walking’ if the robot wasn’t in the restaurant.
‘It’s primarily to solve the staffing crisis but that’s the catalyst for it. It was a short-term solution for the staffing crisis but the reality is, it’s making such a difference to the restaurant,’ said Mr Ramsden.
‘If you go to Tesco now, you get the zapper and go to the automatic check out. This AI and robotics is coming.
‘It’s really timely and a good short-term solution to the staffing problem now, but it will become much more commonplace.
‘They are Chinese manufactured and they’re being used to some degree in Germany, Holland and Spain at the moment, and even in Slovenia, but nobody had actually brought them over here to the UK [before we launched them in November].
‘We’re now importing the robots and providing them to anybody that needs them – with hospitality being the initial target market.’
Could a robot take YOUR job? Waiters, shelf fillers and retail assistants are most likely to be replaced with automated systems – but doctors and teachers are safe for now
Waiters, shelf stackers and people working in retail are the most likely to be replaced by automated systems in the future, according to new research into AI employment.
The study, funded by trade electrical suppliers ElectricalDirect, found that while manual and repetitive tasks were easy to replace with robots, doctors and teachers were safe ‘for now’.
The jobs most at risk from automation, according to the study, are waiters, shelf fillers, retail assistants, bar staff and farm workers.
The researchers found an obvious geographical trend as well, with the north, particularly Wigan, Doncaster and Sunderland at the greatest risk from robots
At the other end of the scale, with those in the most ‘secure from automation’ roles are doctors, teachers, dentists, psychologists and physiotherapists.
The researchers found an obvious geographical trend as well, with the north, particularly Wigan, Doncaster and Sunderland at the greatest risk from robots.
The south fares significantly better, with London, Watford and Oxford the least at risk of job losses due to mass automation as AI and robotics improve.
By analysing 20 million jobs from around the country, the team discovered that roles with repetitive and routine tasks will be the first in line for automation, with some industries, such as manufacturing, starting this process decades ago.
The rise of AI poses an existential threat to the UK jobs market, as it starts to make a large number of jobs a thing of the past.
It’s an inevitable and controversial change to the way our economy works, which has only been sped up by the forced automation brought on by Covid, as businesses were limited in their ability to have customer-facing roles.
The data analysed 20 million jobs, looking at the risk of automation, by analysing whether repetitive and routine tasks would be carried out quicker by an algorithm.
Therefore, jobs that tend to need less human intervention, came out at a much higher risk. Location data is based on areas where jobs require the most training, thus lowering their risk of automation.
Waiters top the list by having a 72.81 per cent probability of being replaced by robots over the coming years, a process likely to be sped up by the recruitment crisis.