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Robo-waiters from Dallas to the World

A robo-waiter serving customers at a Dallas restaurant. Is this a once-in-a-bluemoon occurrence or will it spread to become the new normal? Image credit: American Robotech

Robo-waiters are not a novelty. What is new is the environment and perception change brought up by the epidemic. In some areas we are having shortage of human resources in others we are seeing restaurants’ customers feeling uneasy to have to interact with waiters risking contagion. More important, possibly, are regulations that in several Countries have forced restaurant to adopt a safety protocol aiming at decreasing human interactions, thus decreasing contagion risks.

Restaurants, I experienced this in Italy and on my vacation in France and Spain, have responded with automation, using QR codes for displaying the menu on the customer smartphone, accepting orders directly from the smartphone as well as paying the check. The only -brief- interaction has remained the waiter delivering the plates. This is leading to a situation where:

  1. the role of the waiter is dramatically  reduced, he/she is no longer “entertaining” the customers, engaging them and making the restaurant and the food attractive. This is left to the website funnelled on the smartphone. Hence, in the new role, anything that can quickly deliver the food to the customers would be fine;
  2. the restaurant processes have been re-shaped and moved to the cyberspace. This opens up further innovation, including cross selling of products (did you like the wine? Have some bottles shipped home directly from the producer…) and services (did you check calories on the menu? May be you would be interested in some nutritionists support…). Ads can become customised to the “experience” and to the way people engage in the experience…

Hence the new landscape where robo-waiters may attract interest from restaurants managers.

American Robotech has been developing various kinds of robots in the last few years with an eye on autonomous delivery in closed areas, like restaurants, hospitals…

A few Dallas restaurants have decided to try out some of their robots and the first feedbacks are positive, both in terms of the restaurant manager balance sheet and in terms of acceptance by customers. The interaction is full contact free, being mediated by the customer’s smartphone, the trays are brought by the robot to the table and the customer picks up the food.

Some of the robots being on trial comes with a tablet “head” or “belly” to display ads, potentially generating additional revenue streams.

It is obvious that their application fit best fast food restaurants. Upper scale restaurants leverage on the human touch provided by the waiter and this is not going to change in the coming years. Further down the road it might be different (we have all learnt to use ATM and no longer interact with a cashier, mortgages are mostly being negotiated with a bank software, gone the times of sitting with a bank consultant to discuss the options…).

The epidemics is just accelerating trends that were already there.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.