Robots for robots' sake

The city’s first restaurant with robot bearers and a space theme is more practical than ornamental

The Robot Restaurant’ on 100 feet road, Indiranagar, is the Bengaluru food scene’s latest novelty.

The first of its kind in the city, it is the fourth eatery in the franchise that was the first in India to use robots as bearers.

The restaurant chain was started three years ago as a single eatery at Old Mahabalipuram Road in Chennai with four robots. It clicked.

And every new eatery that the franchise opened after that was an upgrade of the last.

From just four, they got eight robots when the Coimbatore restaurant started. For the third instalment, they came back home to Chennai to set shop in Porur.

While the number of robots came down to six in Porur, one of them was different from the rest: it was the first Android robot in the team, capable of greeting regular customers by their first name and guiding them to the eatery’s ‘selfie point’. The Bengaluru restaurant has two updates from the Porur version. One: they have introduced a new spaceship theme, making it look like the full futuristic package. Two, they have brought on little trains that travel close to the seats, handing out food.

The eatery specialises in the Indo-Asian cuisine.

Both of these seem to suggest that kids are a crucial target audience in the city. General manager Kailash Sundarajan assures that the robots have been designed not to harm kids, while they are also sturdy enough to withstand some young turk who thinks he needs a worthy opponent.

Although many Bengalureans turned up on Saturday to have a machine slap food on their plates for the first time, most did not know how to go about them.

Two people were seen standing up and respectfully collecting food from the robots.

When the robots politely asked people to get out of their way, some obliged; others thought it would be fun not to.

Modelled as women, the robots look dapper in their blue and white metal bodies, their necks wrapped fashionably in colourful scarves.

While they are all bald, two digitally drawn crescents as eye slits give a pleasant look to the metal ladies, one of whom was rocking a pair of electric-blue earphones. They even sport saris at the Coimbatore eatery.

Kailash Sundarajan, the general manager of the franchise, says there was no particular reason for choosing the ladies over other models, the team just happened to like them.

All four Robot Restaurants are architecturally very similar. They are built around a large rectangular magnetic strip, along which the robots move. The seats are placed close to the strip, which travels between the dining area and the kitchen.

An insider told Metrolife that although the robots speak only English, regional language speakers have never been put off by this.

However, he expects more success here than in the three previous places because “the crowd in Bengaluru is more cosmopolitan than the ones in Chennai and Coimbatore,” he says.

The one consistent nightmare about robots is that industries will find them to be cheaper labour and will not have any use for people anymore.

Sundarajan admits that the robots have been relatively low-maintenance. So far, the company has not had to replace any of them, some of whom are three years old.

But he says the robots have actually created more job vacancies.

“The robots need people to run them. We need people for repair and maintenance, to take care of the tablets (that people order their food on), and to man the toy trains that move between the aisles to serve food,” Sundarajan says.

Also, relying only on the robots may be a tiresome option for the more spoilt customers. The ladies only bring you the food; they neither keep it on the table nor serve it.

The showrunners seem to have taken this into account: you can always use the ‘call waiter’ option on the tablet for some extra pampering.

The robots therefore largely serve an ornamental purpose. The name of the chain, ‘Robot Restaurant’, is your giveaway to that: the robots are not there to ease or heighten your dining experience; they are there for the novelty and pleasure of having robots around.

In other words, they are robots for robots’ sake.

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