Friendly robot serving customers at Korean restaurant in Winnipeg

The owners of a Korean restaurant are using a robotic server, the first of its kind in Winnipeg, to make the guest feel safer dining indoors and help offset staffing shortages due to the pandemic. Mark Neufeld reports.

By Mark Neufeld

“Attention, the robot is coming.”

That’s how diners at a Korean restaurant in Winnipeg are greeted when they walk in and take a seat.

That’s because their server is a robot.

It’s not quite a scene out of a blockbuster science fiction movie, but it’s definitely a step in that direction.

Hong Du Kkae on Pembina Highway near the University of Manitoba is getting some high-tech help.

The robot server brings food right to customers’ tables.

“When I went to Vancouver, I saw it and thought I’m very interested,” said Dirk Wang, the part-owner of Hong Du Kkae. “And I talked to my friend and I got one here.”

The serving robot can’t have complete conversations with customers yet, but it can alert them it’s on the move. It tells them when their food has arrived, and thanks them for ordering as it departs to serve other tables or return to the kitchen to pick up more meals.

A result of pandemic-driven staff shortage

Wang hopes the robot will help attract customers back to dine in safely as pandemic health restrictions ease. Wang spent $26,000 on the robot, which he says has already proven to be a good investment.

The pandemic has made it harder to find serving staff and the robot is a great support system for the servers who are working when it gets busy, says Wang.

“It can deliver the food from here or from in the kitchen onto the table. And not only to one table. It can do probably four or five tables at the same time, saving servers a lot of time from travelling.”

‘Never seen something like that’

Wang says it’s the first robotic server in Winnipeg, adding kids love to take pictures with it. He also says when customers see it serving them for the first time, they really enjoy it.

“I think it’s pretty interesting. I’ve never seen something like that before,” said customer Katrina Spokes.

The serving robot is made by Keenon Robotics and uses a sensor on its head to communicate with a device in the celling allowing the robot to navigate around customers and avoid walls. The robot can work 16 hours off a four-hour charge.

Server John Ru likes having the robot around.

“Especially during the rush time, it’s really efficient,” said Ru.

Wang says the robot isn’t good enough to replace servers, but he expects the technology to continue improving and believes more robots will be rolling out in other restaurants in Winnipeg very soon.

“Yeah I think in the future there will be more and more robots to come here,” said Wang.

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