19 November 2018
A robot can help in the kitchen with mass production but cannot serve customers satisfactorily, at least for now. Photo: internet
A robot can help in the kitchen with mass production but cannot serve customers satisfactorily, at least for now. Photo: internet

Are you being served (by your favorite robot)?

Can you imagine being served your favorite dim sum by anyone other than your favorite waiter?

If the thought is unappetizing, how about not having any waiters around at all?

Get used to the idea, according to Leung Yiu-chun, chief executive of Hong Kong restaurant chain operator Tao Heung Holdings (00573.HK).

Leung said his company is planning to use robots to solve a manpower shortage. He has jointly invested 5 million yuan (US$771,200) with a Shanghai company to get things moving.

Soon, Leung’s restaurants will be humming with androids. Gone will be temporary human servers who are mainly hired for peak periods such as during banquets.

Even permanent staff might soon be feeling less permanent.

There’s also the small matter of costs. Tao Heung pays its staff HK$12,000.

Poor sales and high overheads are squeezing restaurant operators like Tao Heung to the point where they rely on temporary staff, mostly students, to fill vacancies.

That said, Leung’s idea is not new.

I remember going to a restaurant many years ago in Canada where dim sum was served on an automated cart.

In fact, I’m surprised there are not more of them despite advances in technology such as QR code and encrypted messaging.

Tao Heung did have robot staff in 2013 when it launched its “HK$1 chicken for dinner” campaign, featuring android chefs.

At one time, Tao Heung brought in 10 robots to make seven dishes of the signature dry fried rice noodles with beef.

Making these robots costs as much as hiring human waiters and their dishes are not much different from those made by a human chef.

It’s easy to understand why many restaurant owners like to give robots a try.

Think about it — they don’t complain, or take sick leave or ask for a raise or bonus, although they might be out of order at times.

And they don’t use foul language on customers.

We can’t wait to hear what Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, the legislator who represents the catering industry, has to say about this.

Cheung famously said that the hourly minimum wage should be HK$20 and immediately found himself under fire from every direction.

But while robots might make financial sense, they can’t greet you like an old friend.

We’re sure to miss those dim sum ladies who make our morning tea that much more enjoyable.

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EJ Insight writer

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