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The three new servers working at Art Piyavichayanont’s family-operated restaurant group are strong, efficient and a hit with the kids. They pose for selfies, sing “Happy Birthday” and can withstand the most difficult of customers.
They’re known as the “Bellas” and they’ve been on the job for just a few weeks, but already they’ve changed the way Piyavichayanont’s Urban Belly restaurant group does business. At a time when restaurants are struggling to find workers, the Bellas are ready to roll, literally so. They’re robots, after all. Their cartoony cat faces and aircraft-grade aluminum alloy bodies kind of give that away.
Short for BellaBot, the 130-pound, bionic Bellas are filling the role of food runners at Urban Belly’s months-old Eat District restaurant in Boca Raton and The Sea Asian Kitchen in Delray Beach.
“At the end of the day, we feel this is something that will help our employees by making their jobs easier,” says Piyavichayanont, whose south county-based group also owns Lemongrass Asian Bistro’s four locations, Ramen Lab Eatery’s three locations, Ganzo sushi restaurant at Delray Marketplace and Long Story Short at Mizner Park in Boca.
Piyavichayanont ordered the BellaBot Premium Delivery Robots from a dealer in Miami and placed them in contrasting restaurants.
He assigned one Bella to the fast-casual Eat District, where the bot carries customers’ orders to their tables. The dishes are then retrieved by diners. At The Sea, an upscale full-service restaurant, two Bellas assist servers in carrying often large orders to customers’ tables, where the dishes are retrieved by servers.
What is a BellaBot robot server?
The bots, which sell for about $10,000 each, have been programmed to recognize each of the restaurants’ layouts and tables. Kitchen staffers load each order on the Bellas’ four-layer induction trays and punch in a table number, sending the bot into the dining room to deliver the order.
“Your food is here!” announces the bot.
Armed with 3D sensors, the deft Bellas can avoid all obstacles to reach their assigned tables. Load them up with dirty dishes and the bots spirit them to the dishwashing station.
“They’ve been pretty helpful,” says Piyavichayanont, who decided to try out the growing national robotic server trend as a way to mitigate staffing issues. “One of the main issues was we started losing workers and that made it harder for the others. So we’re trying to make their jobs easier so they will stay. Now, they don’t have to carry that big tray of food.”
Initially, some relatives at the restaurant group were skeptical about the technological move.
“But if this can help make jobs easier, that’s what we want to do,” says the veteran restaurateur. “In the restaurant business, people work very long hours. I think that’s why a lot of people have been leaving the industry during the pandemic, to take more time off.”
For the first time in nearly 20 years, his restaurant group closed their eateries on Christmas Day.
“People want to be with their families on Christmas, and they should be,” he says.
As do many trending celebrities, the BellaBot made its debut in Las Vegas. Its maker, the Chinese company PuduTech, rolled out the bot at the January 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in that city.
In Palm Beach County, if the Bellas continue to impress at Eat District and The Sea, Piyavichayanont plans to introduce new bots at other Urban Belly restaurants. The group is growing, after all, with a new Ramen Lab location slated to open in West Boca’s Mission Bay Plaza this spring.
“We are now testing to see how people react to them,” he says. “So far, customers love them.”
Some customers love Bella so much they rub the bot’s sloped cat ears in appreciation. Bella seems to like that, giving an electronic wink and grin. But fuss with her ears for too long and she gets miffed, kind of like a fussy feline, and let you know she’s got work to do.
Urban Belly restaurant group with BellaBot robot waiters
The family-owned Urban Belly group restaurants featuring BellaBots are Eat District fast-casual eatery at 1914 NE 5th Ave. in Boca Raton and The Sea Southeast Asian Kitchen at 16950 Jog Rd. in suburban Delray Beach.
The group’s other restaurants are Lemongrass Asian Bistro (locations in Wellington, Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach), Ganzo sushi restaurant at the Delray Marketplace, Ramen Lab (locations in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and West Palm Beach) and Long Story Short coffee shop at Mizner Park in Boca Raton.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Robot servers in Florida: BellaBot a hit with restaurant customers in Boca