The wait staff fled this summer due to the labor shortage and receive an extra hand from the non-human kind.
A robotic waiter, BellaBot, helps by delivering meals from the kitchen to the tables, then bringing the dirty dishes back to the kitchen.
At Paihia Green’s Thai Cuisine restaurant, the BellaBot means servers can spend an average of 11 to 12 minutes longer at each table, owner Vikas Sharma said.
“It doesn’t take anybody’s job – basically it does a runner’s job,” he said.
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“Once the food arrives at the table, servers can pick up the food [and serve it to diners].”
The robot is equipped with sensors and cameras to prevent it from bumping into chairs or tables, and makes friendly chatter as it moves along the restaurant floor to make sure people know it come.
The robot attracted fascinated diners, especially children who loved the way it spoke and reacted to touch, Sharma said.
“A guy came four nights in a row,” he said.
The BellaBot was imported by G Robotics due to concerns about a lack of hospitality staff.
The Bay of Islands has been particularly hard hit due to the seasonal nature of the works, a lack of international working holiday tourists and the fact that Northland has been virtually cut off from the rest of the country for months by landlocked Auckland.
Vaccination mandates have also put off potential workers, but Sharma said all of its 16 employees voluntarily got vaccinated.
While the robot is a point of interest for customers, its use has come under some criticism on social media, with people calling it the “thin edge of the corner” for more advanced robotics to support. jobs, and others simply saying that they would prefer the human a service.
Sharma said Green would prefer to hire more humans, if he could find them, and he has positions open all the time.
In the meantime, the BellaBot served to provide assistance.
“The intention is not to displace anyone – it’s just a full-fledged runner and helping hand from the kitchen to the table.”
Cobb & Co franchise owner Ben Gower agreed that the robots were more of a help and novelty than a replacement for staff.
He was testing two robots at Cobb & Co Rotorua – primarily as a form of entertainment in the child-friendly restaurant – with a view to using them in other restaurants.
The robots had created a lot of intrigue and fascination, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from restaurant diners, Gower said.
“We see children following the robots around the restaurant like the Pied Piper.”
But Gower had also seen negative comments online about the future of robots and the impact they could have on the industry.
He believed that people need not worry.
“At the moment, these robots are not replacing jobs; for us, the key aspect is novelty.
“Restaurant staff perform a multitude of different tasks that a robot cannot perform.”
Gower said using the robots to take on menial tasks could help restaurants pay staff more for their highly skilled work.
“Staff can do much-loved tasks like taking customer orders, rather than just bringing plates back to the kitchen.”
A third New Zealand restaurant, Bamboo Garden in Blenheim, also uses a BellaBot, and they are popular in Australian restaurants.