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One Richmond restaurant ‘fires’ robot server, another ‘hires’ one

Robot servers helpful, but they don't fully replace human staff: Restaurant owners
Foodie Kitchen in Richmond uses robot servers to help deliver dishes to customers. Daisy Xiong photo

More restaurants in Richmond now are now using robot servers, which can be a potential solution for labour shortage challenges.

However, some restaurant owners say robot servers cannot replace human waiters and are only a good fit for certain types of restaurants.

And, at least one restaurant, Hao’s Lamb Restaurant, “fired” its robot as business picked up after the pandemic and the restaurant got more crowded.

After opening last year, Foodie Kitchen at Aberdeen Centre, on the other hand, “hired” a robot server – a machine with four wheels and three trays that can deliver dishes to designated tables.

HaiDiLao, a popular hotpot chain, also uses robot servers in its Richmond location on No. 3 Road.

“[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.”

But Song said despite being helpful, the robot server cannot replace waiters - in fact, often times a waiter needs to follow the robot when it delivers the food to ensure everything goes well.

“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 said once, during a busy period, a waiter ran into the robot and hurt her toe, and another time, the robot was moving too fast and the dishes it was carrying all fell on the floor.

“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.”

Robot servers in Richmond ‘fired’

Hao’s Lamb Restaurant at No. 3 and Browngate roads started using two robot servers in 2021 but put them away last year.

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

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

He explained that when it became crowded in the restaurant, the robots would get stuck on their routes and had customers waiting for their food, or get run into by customers or staff.

“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.”