Robot Waiters During the Labor Shortage

He glides up to your table carrying four trays of food, beaming an emoji-like grin — and he’s fast, often reacting within a fraction of a second.

Meet Matradee, a robot waiter created by Richtech Robotics, and he’s what many restaurants need right now. In a time when restaurant labor is scarce these robots are increasing in appeal. The robots also can be “personalized” with fun names: “Panchita,” which means “little peanut,” is a robot “working” at La Duni Latin Café in Dallas, Texas.

These robots can open kitchen doors, and use LiDAR, a sensing and detector technology that allows the robot to move around without bumping into things and people.  But beware, if you spend too much time blocking theway you might hear about it. “I have to go back to work!” and “Don’t get obsessed with me!” are just a few of the somewhat sassy phrases they can say if you dare to keep your mechanical waiter waiting too long.

They can also speak several languages, tell jokes and sing “Happy Birthday.”

Restaurants all over the country are employing these mechanical creatures to cope with the labor shortage in their industry.

The pandemic’s effect on the service industry

During the pandemic many restaurant workers left or lost their jobs. Many of those workers have not returned even after restaurants reopened. Whether out of a concern for contracting the virus or considering other options amidst the quietude of their furlough many workers bailed for good, leaving restaurant owners desperate to fill spots reliant on social skills —something we don’t tend to associate with a machine.

The lack of workers has affected service at many restaurants, leading to longer wait times and lines. Certain eateries have even had to increase the prices they charge customers to help pay for bonuses like referral perks and free tuition offered to lure more employees and compete other career opportunities.

In spite of these incentives, a study shows that 60 percent of job seekers say they would not consider working in a restaurant, bar, hotel or other hospitality job for their next job.

The Ahern Hotel in Las Vegas’s Trattoria by Marc uses the Matradee robot to deal with its worker shortage as well as a desire from existing waiters to have the additional help.

Making their jobs run smoother

It’s likely that more venues like the Trattoria will look toward hiring robots to support their staff and fill the gaping employment gap that resulted after the pandemic hit.

Human qualities like empathy, conflict resolution, adjusting tone to situation are not easily replaced. However, robots can perform basic functions like serving food and dropping off the check. And, in the case of the quirky Matradee, these robots can add some laughter to the table. This helps if your restaurant is still short-staffed and suffers from long wait times.

It remains to be seen whether a shift in interest away from the hospitality industry sticks around as a trend or is more of a temporary reaction to the pandemic era. What we have seen is that the culture has shifted towards job safety and remote work. For service industries like the restaurant business, robots might be here to stay.