back to article Japan, Singapore, perhaps the whole world.... Get ready for robot waiters from Softbank and Keenon

SoftBank Robotics (SBRG) and China's Keenon Robotics are teaming up to make robot waiters the norm in Japan and Singapore, both companies announced on Monday. Or “SBRG and Keenon Robotics will work together to expand the use of robotics systems in the service industry that will allow better efficiency and productivity,” as the …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

    Or, more likely, to free up staff to be sacked?

    Surely the customer service one expects in a restaurant is to be led to a table, an order taken, and food delivered? (Waiting until all members of your party have just taken a mouthful of food and asking 'is everything all right for you' is a mere discourtesy detail).

    Since the presence of the waiter is essential in all these activities, in what way does the robot differ from a wheeled trolley pushed by the waiter - apart from the obvious of costing a hundred times as much?

    1. Ken G Bronze badge
      Gimp

      Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

      Why can't you follow the robot to your table, key in your order on it and wait for it to deliver food?

      The only job in a restaurant that a robot couldn't do is the cleaners.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

        You order on the app for the restaurant, before you arrive. The robo-waiter takes you to your seat and has the meals in his belly and you take your plate as you sit. As soon as the plates are empty (spy cameras in the ceiling, he is back to collect the plates, payment is automatically made in the app and he chases you out of the restaurant to allow the next shift of revenue generators to take your place...

        A cleaner robot wipes over the table once you have left, and before the next group arrives and little robots run around and clean up the floor behind you. (Take a look at Zorg's office in 5th Element. The only thing the robo waiter can't do is clap you on the back when the food gets stuck.)

        I'll be sticking to normal restaurants with real staff, thanks all the same.

        1. Ken G Bronze badge

          Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

          I also will stick to restaurants with people but I was just challenging the comment that waiters are essential for those parts of the job. I still believe cleaning is too complex for automation though.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

        > The only job in a restaurant that a robot couldn't do is the cleaners.

        What about things like "my drink is empty and I need a refill?" or "this bacon isn't crispy like I ordered it"

        These things are why I tip my waitress and tip well if it's taken care of.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

          American.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

        "The only job in a restaurant that a robot couldn't do is the cleaners."

        Maybe if by "restaurant" you include the likes of McD's etc, then maybe, (I'd call them a cafe at best), but the whole point of going to a proper restaurant is for that personal service and a bit of luxury.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: costing a hundred times as much

      That's like ATMs. Yes, they cost to put into service, but then they cost next to nothing to use and you can run them until they break down.

      Now, an ATM doesn't have much as far as moving parts are concerned, but these robots seem to only have wheels - there are no arms or swivel head, so as long as the wheels are functional, they're good to go.

      1. big_D Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: costing a hundred times as much

        How is the robo waiter going to get the dishes onto the table, if he has no arms?

        If you have to take the plates off him, you might as well go the whole hog and do away with them completely and make it self-service!

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: costing a hundred times as much

          >How is the robo waiter going to get the dishes onto the table, if he has no arms?

          By stopping quickly.

          You've seen the trick of pulling the cloth away and leaving the plates - same thing in reverse

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: costing a hundred times as much

        "so as long as the wheels are functional, they're good to go."

        You mean like supermarket trolleys? The one's where all the wheels do the going round and round bit very well, but they all seem to want to go in a different direction to each other?

    3. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

      The biggest advantage to employers, is that they can switch robots on and off as they please.

      My wife works in the catering industry here in Spain, from what she tells me, employers treat their staff almost like robots (or peons) already.

      Not having to pay employment taxes and have contracts with a robot would appeal to many of them.

      As iy is, I am amazed at how good the service usually is from the majority of underpaid, overburdened staff.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: thus freeing up staff to focus on customer service

      It won't free up anyone to be sacked, as anyone who has ever worked in or owned a restaurant can tell you.

      You still need someone to check that the plates are correct to each order and each table. That's usually done by the server, or a kitchen 'expediter'. The cooks won't do that, they're on the wrong side of the line and if they screwed up the order having them check the order isn't very helpful.

      Unless you expect the customers to take the plates off the robot themselves the server will still need to do that, and the inevitable asking for something else like BBQ sauce, black pepper or whatever will still require a server.

      Carrying plates to the tables is a very small part of a server's workload, and having these things trundling along below your eyeline is probably going to be more of an annoyance to them than a help. And what happens when a customer decides to go to the bathroom and slides his seat back without looking and knocks a few plates off the robot or tips it over entirely?

      This is just a "hey look at us and how futuristic we are" thing for restaurants to get. Just another theme like a rain forest or rock concert. It will COST them money to have it, and won't save any labor expense.

      The bit about it being useful for bringing items to the delivery driver is another fantasy. Someone will have needed to box up and bag the order, and trust the delivery driver to grab the right ones and leave alone something that smells good when he's hungry (yeah he'll be on CCTV taking something he shouldn't but he'll claim it was a simple accident as he was supposed to pick up that Big Kahuna Burger at his next stop)

  2. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Alas, I fear that these service robots days are already numbered

    Once they figure out that customers will accept a dehumanised dining experience, they can replace the robots with a microwave on each table, next to a handy little fridge full of ready meals. OK, maybe with a robot arm to move the meal from fridge to microwave to customer once you've selected your meal from the app.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Alas, I fear that these service robots days are already numbered

      Ahhh and if you give the microwave a burnt wood exterior, the "plate" is an old sure, and you have to have to put the ingredients in yourself, you can charge 50x the amount to pretentious wankers.

      So long as it looks interesting on Instagram / Pinterest, you can overcharge for any old shit.

    2. Lotaresco

      Re: Alas, I fear that these service robots days are already numbered

      I'm so looking forward to those electronic menus.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      The return of the automat

      Seriously, if people wanted an automat style dining experience automats would not have disappeared before the Moon landing!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: The return of the automat

        Just need a bunch of tubes to each table.

        Select the flavour of soylent green you want

      2. EricB123 Bronze badge

        Re: The return of the automat

        Maybe the lack of upvotes (or downvotes) on this post is that nobody knows what an automat is anymore?

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: The return of the automat

          Guess nobody watches old movies anymore in the age of Netflix, that's where I learned what an automat was.

  3. Lotaresco

    Tipping

    "That was a lovely cocktail, barman will you be having something for yourself?"

    "Thank you sir, I'll have a small WD40."

  4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Anyone remember the breakfast scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

    So, why have mobile trolleys moving around between the table and customers getting up, sitting down, walking around etc? Even with humans, sometimes a guest getting up, pushing their chair out, causes waiters to almost or even actually drop stuff. How well will a 3 foot tall robot manage? The guest getting up is far less likely to spot a moving object below line of sight and push their chair out.

    Why not have an overhead "railway" system similar to those used in current automated warehouses? The trolley would be suspended below the tracks and use a cable winch to lower the food to the correct table and diner.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Anyone remember the breakfast scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

      You aren't considering the tremendous computational power available today.

      With precise control loops and precision targeting - the kitchen-to-diner pie delivery system could be perfected

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Anyone remember the breakfast scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

        "the kitchen-to-diner pie delivery system could be perfected"

        Preferably using ballistics. Especially for cream pies delivered to "problem" guests.

  5. EricB123 Bronze badge

    TV Dinner Time!

    Getting served by a freakin' robot at a restaurant sounds almost as pleasurable as staying home with a Swanson (please not Morton) TV dinner, eating it off of a portable TV dinner tray while watching TV. I mean, for greasy fast food a robot is ok, but for anything better I'll pass.

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