In recent years, the F&B industry has seen an increase in the use of robotics to perform tasks that humans traditionally perform.
From waitresses to making cocktails, robots are slowly but surely infiltrating the F&B workforce.
F&B entrepreneurs have touted the robots as more efficient and they are also able to do tasks that humans are less willing to do.
With the outbreak of Covid-19, these robots have now become even more relevant as the pandemic has resulted in close human contact being discouraged.
Even the famous Chinese hotpot chain Hai Di Lao, which is known for its good service, has used robots as servers in its “futuristic” outlet on Marina Square.
But are these robots just a novelty or will they replace human staff in the coming period?
Addressing the problems of F&B business owners
RATIO's robot barista and bartender / Photo credit: Coconuts
The food and beverage (F&B) industry is a difficult situation – from intense competition to rising labor and rental costs to a global pandemic.
According to Enterprise Singapore, only 60 percent of small F&B businesses survive in the first five years of operation, and a third of F&B stores are replaced every year.
Robots can therefore be used to tackle challenges like narrowing margins, the scarce labor crisis and other common problems faced by F&B owners.
For this reason, the Singapore company ROSS Digital Pte Ltd designed and launched RATIO, the world's first robot café and lounge.
The RATIO serves up to 60 drinks, from authentic Nanyang Kopi to craft coffee and inventive cocktails.
According to Gavin Pathross, founder of RATIO, in an interview with Channel News Asia, the cost of leasing RATIO is between S $ 2,500 and S $ 3,500 per month.
While comparable to the average salary of F&B service staff, including bartenders, it can work all day and has "almost no downtime".
Similarly, longtime player in the F&B industry, Jason Thai came across the KopiMatic when he couldn't find a qualified Kopi brewer for his cafe.
The KopiMatic is a machine that doesn't require manual labor to brew a cup of Kopi.
KopiMatic founder Jason Thai / Photo credit: Hawkermatic
The cost savings are also significant.
Unlike humans, KopiMatic can work around the clock. It is also capable of serving drinks faster than humans and moving 400 cups an hour through the service line.
No "Recruitment and Retention Costs, Salary Raises, Annual Vacation, Medical Vacation, Personal Vacation, and Insurance" are required when purchasing the claims from KopiMatic, parent company Hawkermatic, on their website.
A Facebook post by KopiMatic's parent company, HawkerMatic, even advertises the machine to make better tasting coffee than artificial coffee.
"Every step of the brewer's machine reproduces the temperature and timing of the coffee and tea, from soaking and blooming the flavors, to stirring according to powder and recipe, to pulling the socks for the best, fullest flavors," the company said.
Robotic solutions like these are obviously also well received by investors.
In January, Singapore-based technology startup Crown Technologies announced that it had signed its first major cross-border contract with JR East Business Development SEA Pte. Ltd. has completed. Ltd, a subsidiary of the 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 that includes Frasers Property, JustCo, zVentures, ORO and other high profile individuals and is expected to expand rapidly.
Can robots really do anything?
Photo credit: Crown Technologies
There's no denying that robots are doing the jobs that many Singaporeans are reluctant to do.
Channel News Asia reported in early February that there were no buyers for 1,000 jobs in the F&B industry. This is where robots can be used to fill the labor crisis.
According to the business owners, it is becoming apparent that robots are actually helping to reduce costs and speed up processes in the kitchen.
However, there are certain aspects that robots do not cover. For example, the "human touch" is still very important in the F&B industry.
As important as the taste and quality of the meals served in a restaurant are, service also plays a huge role in customer return.
Currently, robots do not have the same ability as humans to communicate with customers.
Although RATIO uses robots, Gavin is convinced that they cannot replace the “human touch”.
In fact, all of the RATIO stores in China and Singapore are human-operated, and the purpose of the robots is to simply relieve employees of repetitive tasks.
After implementing the robot, Gavin told Vulcan Post that RATIO employees actually enjoyed greater job satisfaction as their time was freed up for other activities such as speaking to customers.
To add this, robots have yet to be programmed with recipes and menus that can currently only be conceived by their human counterparts.
Technology and human touch can coexist
In the midst of the increasing number of restaurants and eateries, competition is undoubtedly tougher. A tempting menu is likely not enough to ensure customer loyalty.
Providing a good customer experience has become one of the basic requirements for customers to dine in a restaurant.
Since restaurants prefer digitization, customer loyalty can take a back seat. Hence, it is important for employees to treat technology as a tool to enhance human interaction rather than replace it.
Selected image source: Telegraph