By Marc Arcas
Rohnert Park, California, Feb 16 (efe-epa).- “An order of tuna sashimi. And have the robot bring it to me, please!” Minutes later, a cylinder about a meter (3.3 feet) high with trays inside slides toward the table bearing the Japanese delicacy. It’s the restauranteurs’ new assistant during these Covid times.
At the Boathouse Asian Eatery in Rohnert Park, California, they’ve been working for years to complement the payroll with an automated waiter that would take dishes here and there within the restaurant, thus freeing up a number of employees, but it was not until the pandemic hit that the idea gelled.
“As soon as we opened up again (in June), we saw that was really the right time to bring it in because it also helps us in social distancing. That means that our servers do not have to run to as many tables as before,” the co-owner of the establishment, Hans Mogensen, told EFE.
No sooner said than done: Servi has been circulating among the tables at the restaurant for a number of weeks now and this latest model from California’s Bear Robotics manufacturer can carry up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of foot – just about as much as it weighs – and can run on its battery power for up to 12 hours.
Although it’s still somewhat exotic, Servi has become the Asian fusion restaurant’s big attraction and in the casino where the restaurant is located diners put down their cutlery for a few moments and stop their conversations to watch with interest how the robot moves from one side of the establishment to the other.
“The guests love it. You can see, when it drives around in the restaurant, people take pictures of it, they take little videos of it, they post on Instagram and Facebook all the time,” Mogensen said, adding that the automaton has been accepted among the staff as well as among the customers.
” And it’s really well adapted (to) by everybody on the staff and the guests. So it’s a great complement to the restaurant,” he said.
The dynamic is simple: when the food is ready, Servi heads to the kitchen, where an employee loads it with one or more plates and the robot, which already “knows” which tables to deliver the food to, makes its way through the restaurant to the diners, who take their plates and – mission accomplished – Servi heads back to the spot where it idles until needed for another delivery.
“We wanted to have something functional. We realized that in restaurant settings it’s very tight, you want to … be nimble and be able to get through a lot of … crowds,” one of the robot’s creators, the co-founder and chief of operations of Bear Robotics, Juan Higueros, told EFE.
“So, the reason for our design is that it’s tall enough to perhaps deliver enough dishes … but it’s also (able) to get through within two feet or so, get through the chairs (and) tables, so it’s easily able to maneuver,” he added.
For now, Servi is the only robot in the restaurant, working as it does with the other human waiters and busboys.
According to the proprietors, soon they will bring in another robot, which will specialize in collecting plates of the diners who have finished their meals and take them to be washed.
One of the main problems with Servi – and one that occupies Higueros and the other engineers at Bear Robotics – is that it doesn’t serve drinks very well, since they don’t have the wide and flat surfaces that plates do and need to be handled delicately to ensure that no liquid is spilled en route to the diners or, worse, at the table.
However, the company says that it’s working on adjusting the robot’s design, adding that the challenge is to make a special tray that allows it to carry drinks of all kinds, including wineglasses and even flutes filled to the brim with champagne.