BC Chinese restaurant fires robot server, highlighting growing trend of automation

A restaurant in Richmond incorporated the use of robot servers as a potential solution to address challenges posed by labor shortages in the industry. While this innovation has gained traction, restaurant owners hold differing opinions on the extent to which robot servers can replace human waitstaff, emphasizing that their suitability largely depends on the nature of the establishment.


This noteworthy first case involves Hao’s Lamb Restaurant, which initially adopted two robot servers in 2021. Several businesses in the Richmond area, most of them Asian restaurants, have adopted robot servers, based on a common model built in China known as Bellabot. This decision, however, was reversed last year due to a surge in business following the pandemic, resulting in a more diners and thus, dining room crowding. Zhengwen Hao, the proprietor of Hao’s Lamb Restaurant, told Richmond News that the robot servers were effective during the pandemic's peak, given the reduced customer volume and greater table spacing. Despite this, after the end of "lockdowns" he feels that these machines causing more disruptions than benefits.

Hao explained that the robots encountered operational challenges as the restaurant's occupancy increased. These challenges manifested in instances where the robots' pre-programmed routes became obstructed, leading to delays in delivering orders to patrons, getting blocked by customers and running into staff members. The restaurant's dynamic seating arrangements are centered around communal platters and thus contingent upon the size of dining parties. Hao observed the inflexible programming of robot servers is unsuitable for such a context.

Conversely, the Foodie Kitchen at Aberdeen Centre embraced the implementation of a robot server equipped with four wheels and three trays. Designed to transport dishes to designated tables, this automated system was hailed as an effective solution. Alan Song, a representative from Foodie Kitchen, expressed satisfaction with the robot's capacity to ferry hot dishes while also facilitating the retrieval of used dishes and bowls to the kitchen. This, Song noted, contributed to a reduction in the need for human staff.

Song highlighted the limitations of robot servers in fully replacing human waitstaff. While the robots' assistance was valuable, a human presence was often required to oversee the smooth delivery of food, exemplified by instances where waiters trailed the robots to ensure seamless service. Additionally, the robot's inability to handle tasks such as delivering soup, which could lead to spills of hot liquid if it came to a rest too abruptly, underscored its restricted capabilities. As noted by Hao, adapting to changes in table configurations or accommodating larger groups by combining tables also posed challenges for the robot, resulting in confusion.

The experiences of these Richmond restaurants underscore the nuanced considerations that underpin the adoption of robot servers. Alan Song cautioned that potential adopters should thoroughly evaluate their necessity within their specific operational contexts. Larger restaurants may find value in robot servers' ability to efficiently transport hot or cold dishes. However, for smaller establishments, robot servers might be less useful.

In conclusion, while the integration of robot servers in Richmond's restaurants offers innovative solutions to labor shortages, their efficacy varies depending on factors such as restaurant size and operational dynamics. The experiences of Hao’s Lamb Restaurant and Foodie Kitchen highlight the nuanced balance that establishments must strike between automation and human interaction to deliver optimal dining experiences.

The real takeaway here is that it's only 2023, and not only are human workers actively being replaced by robots, it seems robots may have an easier time finding new work, too.