In recent years, the F&B industry has seen a rise in the use of robotics to carry out jobs that humans traditionally do.
From waitressing to making cocktails, robots are slowly but surely infiltrating the F&B workforce.
F&B business owners have touted the robots to be more efficient and they are also able to do tasks that humans are less willing to carry out.
With the Covid-19 outbreak, these robots have become even more relevant now, as the pandemic has led to the discouragement of close human contact.
Even famous Chinese hotpot chain Hai Di Lao, which is well-known for its good service, has deployed robots as servers in its “futuristic” Marina Square outlet.
But are these robots simply a novelty, or will they eventually replace human staff in time to come?
Tackling Problems Faced By F&B Business Owners
The food and beverage (F&B) industry is a tough line to be in — from intense competition, to rising manpower and rental costs and now, a global pandemic.
According to Enterprise Singapore, only 60 per cent of small F&B businesses survive in their first five years of operation, and a third of F&B outlets are replaced each year.
Robots can thus be used to tackle challenges like narrowing margins, the tight manpower crunch and other common issues faced by F&B owners.
This is the reason why Singaporean company ROSS Digital Pte Ltd, conceptualised and launched RATIO, the world’s first robotic café and lounge.
RATIO serves up close to 60 drinks, from authentic Nanyang kopi to artisanal coffees and inventive cocktails.
According to RATIO founder Gavin Pathross in an interview with Channel News Asia, the cost of leasing RATIO is between S$2,500 and S$3,500 a month.
Although it is comparable to the average salary of F&B service staff, including bartenders, it can work all day and has “almost no downtime”.
Similarly, Jason Thai, a long-time player in the F&B industry, came up with the KopiMatic when he was unable to find a skilled kopi brewer for his coffee shop.
The KopiMatic is a machine that does not require the manual labour needed to brew a cup of kopi.
The cost savings are significant as well.
Unlike humans, KopiMatic can function round the clock. It’s also able to serve drinks at a faster pace than humans, moving 400 cups per hour through the service line.
There’s no need for “recruitment and staff retention costs, salary increments, annual leave, medical leave, personal leave and insurance” when you purchase the KopiMatic, parent company Hawkermatic claims on its website.
A Facebook post by KopiMatic’s parent company HawkerMatic even touts the machine to make better tasting coffee than man-made ones.
“Every step of the machine’s brewer replicates the temperature and timing of coffee and tea, from the steeping and blooming of flavours, stirring specific to one’s powder and recipe, and the sock pulling action for the best, fullest flavours,” said the company.
Robotic solutions like these are evidently well-received by investors too.
In January, Singapore’s retail tech startup Crown Technologies announced that it inked its first major, cross-border deal with JR East Business Development SEA Pte. Ltd, a subsidiary of East Japan Railway Company.
This brings the company to an initial valuation of S$33 million.
Similarly, RATIO has received a round of investment led by a consortium of like-minded partners comprising Frasers Property, JustCo, zVentures, ORO and other high-profile individuals, and is set to expand quickly.
Can Robots Really Do Everything?
It is undeniable that robots carry out the tasks that many Singaporeans are hesitant to take on.
Channel News Asia reported earlier in February that there were no takers for 1,000 jobs in the F&B industry. This is where robots can come in to fill the manpower crunch.
According to the business owners, it can be seen that robots are indeed instrumental in reducing costs and speeding up processes in the kitchen.
However, there are certain aspects that robots fail to cover. For example, the “human touch” is still very much important in the F&B industry.
As much as the taste and quality of the meals served in a restaurant are important, service also plays a big role in ensuring that customers return.
Currently, robots do not have the same ability as humans to communicate with customers.
Although RATIO utilises robots, Gavin is convinced that they will not be able to replace the “human touch”.
In fact, all of RATIO’s stores in China and Singapore are run by people, and the purpose of its robots are to simply relieve its staffs from repetitive tasks.
Following the robot implementation, Gavin told Vulcan Post that the RATIO staff actually enjoyed greater job satisfaction, as their time was freed up to engage in other activities such as speaking with customers.
To add on, robots still have to be programmed with recipes and menus that currently only can be conceptualised by its human counterparts.
Technology And Human Touch Can Coexist
Amid the rising number of restaurants and eateries, competition is no doubt getting tougher. A tantalising menu is likely not enough to ensure customer retention.
Serving up a good customer experience have become one of the basic requirements for customers to consider dining at a restaurant.
However, as restaurants embrace digitisation, customer engagement might take a backseat. Therefore, it is important for staff to treat technology as a tool to enhance human interaction rather than replace it.
Featured Image Credit: Telegraph