Date
20 January 2020
Many restaurants in China have already deployed automation and artificial intelligence technologies. Photo: Reuters
Many restaurants in China have already deployed automation and artificial intelligence technologies. Photo: Reuters

Property giant Country Garden opens its first robotic restaurant

Chinese real estate giant Country Garden Holdings Co. Ltd. (02007.HK) opened its first restaurant operated mainly by robots in Guangzhou over the weekend.

The restaurant, located in Zhujiang New Town, mainly serves cuisine from Shunde, the hometown of founder Yang Guoqiang.

The restaurant uses robots to cook, deliver food, take orders and guide customers. In the kitchen alone, there are 32 robots preparing and cooking food.

After trying the dishes, famous local chef Lin Chao gave the restaurant the thumbs up.

Robot waiters greet customers at the entrance. Using an AI system, they guide customers to their seats, recommend specials of the day and take orders.

Food is delivered to the tables via a conveyor belt.

It is said that the robots are “learning” their skills from the top 10 Shunde chefs, using a computer program to follow every detail such as temperature control, ingredients, and cooking time. The program is repeatedly fine-tuned to reach the precision level required.

While there is no doubt about the sophisticated technology being used at the restaurant, cost may be a deciding factor when it comes to commercial viability.

SoftBank-backed Zume Pizza, which also employs a high degree of automation, has suffered a serious setback due to excessive money burning and lack of continued funding support.

Country Garden has reportedly spent around 200 million yuan (US$29 million) setting up the new restaurant. One can’t help but wonder how long it would take for it to break even.

The top developer, which sold more than 770 billion yuan worth of properties last year, is not worried at all.

The deep-pocketed Yang is said to be planning to open 1,000 such robotic restaurants across China within two years, hoping to drive down costs through economies of scale.

Yang has previously unveiled a plan to invest over 80 billion yuan in developing robotic technology.

In addition to the catering business, a substantial bulk of these robots would be used to build homes faster, cheaper and safer.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 14

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist