Robot servers cannot replace human ones, restaurants say

The service industry will not be replacing humans with machines any time soon.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of a robot waiter.jpg
Representational image of a robot waiter.


When it comes to robots, there is always the fear that they may replace human workers. A new report by Richmond News published on Saturday is showing that this is not yet the case with the service industry.

The article highlights how more restaurants in the city are now using robot waiters to tackle labor shortage issues but are finding them ineffective, with two restaurants in particular having to fire their robot servers.

Useful but problematic

Overall, the restaurants interviewed by Richmond News reported that the robot servers were useful in some cases but problematic in many others. In other words: they could not effectively replace human workers.

“[Robot servers] were a new thing here so we decided to try it out,” said Alan Song from Foodie Kitchen.

“It’s great for carrying hot dishes and bringing used dishes and bowls back to the kitchen, to help save human labour.”

However, Song added that the waiters were forced to follow the robot when it served the food to customers in order to make sure everything ran smoothly which created more work for the human staff.

“We don’t use it to deliver soup because soup may spill when the robot stops. And if we adjust the location of the tables or combine two tables into one for a larger group, the robot gets confused.”

Song further told Richmond News that there were several incidents of accidents that happened on account of the robot: a waiter fell onto the machine hurting her toe and the robot let go of all the dishes it was carrying dropping them on the floor by attempting to move too fast.

Proceed with caution

“Restaurants should think carefully before getting a robot server,” he said. “I would say it is helpful for delivering dishes in a bigger restaurant and can help carry food that’s either too hot or cold, but for smaller restaurants, it might not be necessary.”

Richmond News also reported on two restaurants who added robots to their service staff in 2021 only to get rid of them in 2022 when business returned to normal after COVID and the spaces got crowded.

“They were working very well during the pandemic when we had fewer customers and more spacing between tables,” said owner Zhengwen Hao.

“But when the lockdown was lifted and we had more customers and tables, the robot servers caused more inconvenience than help.”

Hao told Richmond News that customers and waiters would run into the machines that simply could not function quickly enough and that the robots failed to deliver the food.

“For restaurants like ours where the seats change a lot depending on the size of the party, it is not convenient to use robot servers who are just not as flexible as staff.”