South Florida restaurant employs robot servers to counter staff shortages

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — It’s a scenario straight out of “The Jetsons.” A South Florida restaurant owner is using dining-room robots for touchless, socially distanced seating and ordering.

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Joy Wang, the owner of Mr. Q Crab House in Hollywood, bought three robo-staff members for $30,000, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Wang said she invested in the robotic workers because she is having difficulty filling shifts of servers and front-of-house staffers at the Cajun seafood restaurant.

With the restaurant doing brisk business because of its location across the street from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Wang took drastic measures.

Her former employees “would rather sit at home and collect unemployment,” Wang told the Sun-Sentinel.

Enter Peanut, a 4-foot robot that is one of the three robots serving customers at the restaurant.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, the robot greets customers with a digital eye-wink and a cheerful, “Here you are! Please follow me to your table!” Then, Peanut spins around and leads patrons to their tables.

Once customers order from a human server and their meals are prepared, a second robot takes the food to their table, the newspaper reported.

“Thank you,” Vicki Charlton, a customer at the restaurant, tells the robot.

“You’re welcome!” the robot answers back.

“I could use one of these at home, a robot maid that cooks and feeds me,” Charlton told the Sun-Sentinel.

We’ve got 3 new friends in store now helping us delivering the delicious food to you! Come check it out today!...

Posted by Mr. Q Crab House Hollywood on Sunday, April 11, 2021

Peanut can sing “Happy Birthday” and “Merry Christmas” in four languages and displays the restaurant’s menu on a touchscreen it holds over its head, the newspaper reported.

Automated food service is being tested nationwide. Earlier this week, Domino’s Pizza announced it is partnering with Nuro to launch autonomous pizza delivery in a Houston neighborhood.

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Chick-fil-A is testing robot delivery in Santa Monica, California, under a partnership with robotics company Kiwibot, Restaurant Business reported. Customers are served with semi-autonomous, four-wheeled rovers, Kiwibot COO Diego Varela Prada told the website.

“It’s too early to say where that’s going to end up, but we’re hopeful that we are going to be deploying with them a number of locations later this year or into next year,” Vega said.

REEF, a company that creates virtual, delivery-only restaurants known as “ghost kitchens,” launched Miami’s first self-driving delivery robots in late March, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“Think of it like a rolling food container,” REEF’s chief technology officer, Matt Lindenberger, told the newspaper. “It saves on labor costs. Rather than having five humans delivering five things, I can use three robots and one human.”

The humans at Mr. Q Crab House have embraced their robotic co-workers. Servers said they are worth the expense because robots do not carry COVID-19, the Sun-Sentinel reported. They do not cough and they do not ask for raises. They do not take breaks, except to recharge.

But the robots do have some personality.

Server Michael Salcedo said he once stood in Peanut’s way as it escorted customers to their table, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“It gave me a little attitude,” Salcedo told the newspaper. “It was wailing at me, ‘If I don’t do my job I’ll get fired!’ I mean, it adds to the dine-in experience. The older folks are tickled by Peanut.”

So which one of you do I tip?” Troy Charlton asks after the meal, looking a Salcedo and the robot. It’s something Salcedo has heard several times this week, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“Me, of course!” Salcedo laughs.

“I’ll give the robot a tip if it gives me a piggyback ride around the restaurant,” Troy Charlton told the newspaper.

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