Chennai

The bot butlers

A large group having lunch is getting restless. They are expecting a friend, who is celebrating her birthday, to walk in anytime and they have to plan a big surprise.

“Let’s get the waiters to welcome her outside with a birthday cake,” someone must have suggested. In a while, the birthday girl arrives and is greeted by the sight of four waiters at the door, with a cake ready for her.

She cannot believe her eyes. For, the waiters aren’t human; they are robots.

“Many people have the same ‘wow’ reaction when they walk in,” says Karthik Kannan, who, along with Venkatesh Rajendran, has launched India’s first robot-themed restaurant. “In the hotel business, it’s no longer just about the food. The experience matters.”

Tech that!

At this themed restaurant, you can order food – Chinese and Thai primarily – without interacting with a waiter. An i-Pad adorns every table and an order can be made by the customer directly, which, in turn, lands on the system at the kitchen.

Once the chefs get it ready, a robot picks it up and delivers it straight to your table. “They are battery-operated and we can control them through sensors. They are programmed in such a way that they know which dish has to go to which table,” says Rajendran, “They also stop if there’s someone blocks their path.”

Or if someone wants to take a selfie – something that everyone who visits the restaurant does. So much that it can delay the food that is meant for another table. “We have a selfie corner separately outside for people who want to click with the robot,” Kannan chips in.

Venkatesh and Karthik say they had to work hard on the conceptualization of such a theme. They’d already given Chennai foodies a new experience a few years ago – their other restaurant, 747, was modelled like an aircraft – and wanted to take that a step further. “When we were mulling on a new concept, we thought about robots. We realized that while China has more than 2000 restaurants that make use of robots, India had none.”

A new concept

It was an idea waiting to be executed, they realised. Kannan flew to China for initial talks and six months later, arrived back in Chennai…with four brand new robots. “I took a 15-day training session on how to operate them,” says Kannan, even as he stops one to whisk a bowl of soup to offer us.

The restaurant is just about a few weeks old, but the last two weekends have already been packed. “The novelty factor has brought people in. But there’s no compromise on the quality of food,” says Rajendran. The top picks in this restaurant include the momos, ‘wow paneer’ and kulfi. What about the pricing? “At about Rs 1,000 for a table for two, the pricing too is fair… it isn’t like we’re trying to saddle the costs of the robots on the customers’ food.”

While they refuse to divulge the investment on the robots, they’re happy sharing future plans. That includes setting up a branch of this themed restaurant in Anna Nagar by next year. The robots will be similar but they will have additional programs. “That will be one step further. Those robots will receive you and guide you to the table. If you come the next time, they will even recognize you.”

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 10:17:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chennai-opens-doors-to-indias-first-robot-themed-restaurant/article21278388.ece

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