How do you fancy having your meal cooked and even delivered to your table by robots? Well, that’s the reality for diners in China, after the country’s biggest hotpot chain took on machines as staff.
Haidilao has been running for nearly a quarter of a century, but it’s not looking towards the past. Its flagship restaurant in Beijing has robots as kitchen hands and waiting staff, and it’s been a big hit with customers.
Loyal fans have been bringing their friends to the branch of Haidilao to see the bots, as well as enjoy the food. Chinese hotpot is an unusual way of eating, where you dip your food into a bowl of boiling broth with your chopsticks.
The name Haidilao actually means “fishing at the bottom of the sea”, which perfectly describes this eating style. With all that hot soup around, taking it to the tables by machine instead of being carried by humans sounds like a good idea. Restaurant bosses certainly see it as a bit of a no-brainer.
Zhou Zhao Cheng, chief strategy officer at Haidilao, told the BBC: “In our industry, labour will become more expensive, while machines will keep getting cheaper.”
Does that mean robots will be rolled out at all of Haidilao’s sites? That would be impressive, because there are more than 360 branches of the restaurant in China, Japan, Taiwan and the US. Recently, it was announced that a Haidilao will open on Shaftesbury Avenue in London, so Brits will be able to experience it for themselves.
It’s not known whether the London restaurant will be staffed by robots, but that would be fun. If it’s a success, the restaurant chain is said to be planning 20 Haidilaos for the capital in future. We could be hotpotting from Barking to Battersea before you know it.
Haidilao is so popular that waits at its restaurants can sometimes be as long as two or three hours. Staff have developed innovative ways of entertaining customers during such periods, twirling ribbons of dough into noodles before dunking them into the hot broth.
With robots doing the traditional jobs of making the food and taking it to the tables, perhaps staff will have more time for this type of entertainment. It looks like it’s circus performers not waiting staff that Haidilao will need in future.
After the novelty of being served by robots wears off, we’ll see if bosses still think they make good business sense. Watch this space…