Robot waiter helps out staff

Denise Piper



Stuff NZ Newspapers

National News

Wait staff run off their feet this summer because of worker shortages are getting an extra hand of the nonhuman kind. A robotic waiter, BellaBot, is helping deliver meals from the kitchen to tables, then running dirty dishes back to the kitchen. At Paihia restaurant Green’s Thai Cuisine, the BellaBot means wait staff can spend an average of 11 to 12 minutes longer at each table, owner Vikas Sharma said. ‘‘It’s not taking anybody’s job – basically it does the work for a runner. Once the food comes to the table, the waiters can pick the food up [and serve it to diners].’’ The robot has sensors and cameras to stop it bumping into chairs or tables, and makes chit-chat as it moves around the restaurant to ensure people know it is coming. It was attracting fascinated diners, especially children who loved how it talked and responded to being touched, Sharma said. The BellaBot was imported by G Robotics because of concerns about the lack of hospitality staff. The Bay of Islands has been particularly affected because of the seasonal nature of the work, the lack of international tourists on working holidays, and Northland being virtually cut off from the rest of the country for months by lockeddown Auckland. Vaccine mandates have also put off potential workers, but Sharma said all his 16 staff willingly got vaccinated. While the robot is a point of interest for customers, its use has copped some criticism on social media, with people calling it the ‘‘thin edge of the wedge’’ for more advanced robotics to take over jobs, and others saying they prefer human service. Sharma said Green’s would prefer to hire more humans, if it could find them, and it had positions open. In the meantime, the BellaBot was about providing help. ‘‘The intention is not to displace anyone – it’s just a full runner and giving a hand from the kitchen to the table.’’