Robot Waiters – The future or just a gimmick?

Patrick Buckley    16 February, 2021

As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry is looking to technology as a way to keep workers safe. Could robot waiters be the answer? In today’s post we bring you our perspective.

The evolution of the Robot Waiter

Robots have been used in hospitality settings for many years. The focus of the so called ‘robot revolution’ in this industry has been observed mainly in China. There, Robots have been serving bemused customers since 2006. 

Up until recently, the main value of this technology was in its novelty factor. In tech crazed regions of China, enthusiasts target establishments with robot waiters in order to experience this technology first hand. In the same way, cruise line Royal Caribbean International have installed robot bar tenders on a number of ships with the purpose of providing entertainment to holidaymakers.

Aside from being a gimmick, employing robots in restaurants, bars and hotels makes a lot of financial sense. The cost of these systems can be as low as $500 USD/unit.  This makes them value for money in China, a country where the average human waiter can expect to make at least twice that amount each month. 

Of course, even the most advanced systems can’t replace the experience of interacting with a human. Perhaps this is why service robots are yet to boom outside of China. It is likely that the novelty of an emotionless machine would wear off faster in western countries who’s culture promotes more social experiences.

The Robot Waiter and the Pandemic

Due to the pandemic, certain areas of our economy are experiencing a premature digital transformation. According to Transparency Market Research (TMR) , the robotics industry is projected to grow annually by 17.64% (CAGR) between now and 2024.

The hospitality sector is not exempt from this transition. The sector is experiencing a shift in customer preference towards a more distanced, impersonal style of service that can only be provided by machines.

Luxury in the service sector can be defined by the ability to provide the customer with what they desire at the time they want it. It is for this reason that we are increasingly seeing service robots being rolled out around the world, especially in luxury settings.   

Upmarket hotel chains such as Four Seasons, Marriott and Hilton Group have started to implement robot waiters in their establishments around the world. Systems powered by Artificial Intelligence are capable of answering customer enquiries, delivering room service and even enforcing social distancing rules. 

The benefits of the robot butler/waiter become even greater in a ‘quarantine hotel’ setting. Countries continue to impose mandatory hotel quarantine for international arrivals. Here, it makes total sense for robots to take the place of human workers in order to avoid contagion amongst staff and quarantining guests. Already hotels in Japan have rolled out this technology across a variety of locations.

Final Thoughts

The robot waiter is no longer just a gimmick. The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled this technology to the forefront of the minds of the hospitality sector.Whether or not this technology will survive in a post COVID-19 world is unclear and depends on the cultural importance placed on human interaction in different regions worldwide.

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