Cat-themed robot serves sushi at Waterloo buffet
A Waterloo restaurant is using a cat-themed robot to solve its most recent staffing shortage.
It’s programmed to host and serve tables at 168 Sushi Buffet in Waterloo and does it all with an automatic smile.
"We’re getting a lot busier and it’s really, really hard to get new employees because of COVID," said Lina Cui, the owner of the restaurant.
She purchased the "Bella Bot" to relieve their staffing woes, by having it take over repetitive tasks that employees perform all day.
"All of our floor runners have to serve thousands of dishes everyday so it does help them a lot," said Cui. "The only downside to the robot is that we need people to manually function it."
The restaurant is short five employees and if Cui can’t hire anyone soon she said she plans to invest in one or two more COVID-19 friendly robot servers that "save a lot of face to face interactions between staff and customers."
Cui said each "Bella Bot" costs anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 and works similarly to autonomous cars, thanks to a system of cameras and sensors that constantly scan the environment.
Some customers call the robot neat but much prefer human interaction.
"I’m a little older so it’s creepy to me. Like 'hey, how are you?' and you’re like 'uhh, fine I guess'," said Wes Hagen, who was served by the robot during his lunch.
Customer Jessica Goodwin said, "If it helps people then that’s great, but I wouldn't want it to take away from people’s jobs."
Cui said the bot isn’t meant to replace workers but Christine Neill, an economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University said it's a sign of positive technological progress.
"If we can have fewer people working and still produce the same amount of stuff, that’s good," said Neill. "There will be other jobs but people are skeptical of that because it’s really just hard to see that happening in real time."
James Rilett, The Vice-President of central Canada with Restaurants Canada said while the industry has not embraced much of automation, this could be a starting point.
"We have about 200,000 vacancies across the country. We can’t get those people back necessarily so we are finding other avenues," said Rilett.