A Sydney restaurant is using a Chinese-made, multi-lingual hospitality robot to address chronic staff shortages as Australia’s economy begins to recover from COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures.
The robot waiter is programmed to know the layout of the tables and delivers food from the kitchen. It is also multi-lingual, programmed to communicate in English and Mandarin. The so-called BellaBot is built by the Chinese firm PuduTech.
Each machine costs about $17,000. They can be leased for $34 per day for each device, or the equivalent of two hours’ wages for restaurant staff. The devices are in use in other Australian restaurants and imports into Australia appear to be unaffected by recent trade tensions between the two countries.
Liarne Schai, the co-owner of the Matterhorn Restaurant in Sydney, is delighted with her new mechanical staff member.
“Ah, love the robot. Love the robot, she makes my life a lot easier. It is like a tower that has got four trays. It will carry eight of our dinner plates in one go. She is geo-mapped to the floor (customer names, location of tables, etc.) The robot knows where all our tables are,” Schai said.
Australia’s hospitality workforce has traditionally relied on international students. They have, however, been restricted from entering after Australia closed its borders to most foreign nationals in March 2020 in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Labor shortages are affecting not only hospitality in Australia, but a range of industries from construction to information technology.
Liarne Schai says she has tried for months without success to recruit workers.
“It is the biggest issue we have at the moment. We have been running ads for chefs, for waiters, for kitchen hands for six months and we have had zero applicants. We are offering above award wages, we are offering bonuses, we are offering everything you can think of to attract appropriate staff and I am not even getting inappropriate staff, or untrained staff. I am just getting nobody.”
Labor shortages should ease when Australia reopens its borders to foreign nationals, but analysts expect many vacancies will remain unfilled.
Employer groups have demanded that Australia increase its intake of migrant workers.
Australia’s official unemployment rate stands at 5.2%.
But with more than 700,000 Australians without a job, there are calls for the government to boost domestic training programs and wages.