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If You Don’t Return to Work, They’ll Build Your Replacement

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

When people started demanding $15 an hour to be the minimum wage, many conservatives warned that it would bankrupt and destroy small businesses, or worse; it would require something inhuman to take their place.  They argued the increase could potentially damage and destroy even larger companies as well. No one listened. Stores and restaurants closed when they couldn’t afford to meet those demands. Places like McDonalds doubled down and purchased kiosks to make everything as automated as possible.

Waiters, waitresses, and even some hostesses naively believed that they were exempt from this situation. Well, Ottawa, Canada, has a big surprise for them. More specifically, Pudu Robots from Shenzhen, China, has that surprise. In Ottawa, Canada, there are already 5 robots doing the work of waiters and waitresses.

The highly efficient BellaBots and KettyBots don’t have to wear masks, they don’t need to quarantine if exposed, and they’re never late because they never leave their restaurant.

The BellaBot for instance is just over four feet tall and can carry up to 88 pounds of food to four different tables! She certainly won’t forget your order or drop your drink on you. (I’m not picking on your waitresses or waiters, I’m picking on me. I’ve done both multiple times in my life when I worked in the restaurant biz.)

The Ottawa Citizen reported that shortages of people aren’t an issue for five different restaurants, all of which are Asian themed.

Sushi Village’s BellaBot is not unique in Ottawa. In the last few weeks, three other BellaBots have been deployed, at Hokkaido Sushi on Dalhousie Street and at the Hockey Sushi locations on Merivale Road and Carling Avenue.

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The BellaBots were not even Ottawa’s first restaurant robots. That distinction goes to the KettyBot, BellaBot’s cheaper cousin, which debuted this month at Mekong Restaurant in Chinatown.

That brings Ottawa’s robot-server population to at least five, all made by Pudu Robotics, a five-year-old company in Shenzhen, China, that has already sold thousands of units in its homeland.

Toronto has roughly 50 restaurant robots, says Cora Cao, an Ottawa-based sales representative with S.P.A.R.C. Technologies, Pudu’s primary distributor in most of Canada. But she expects more Ottawa restaurants will buy or rent robots from her in early 2022 and adds that her company hopes to sell to franchises in Ontario next year.

“We have many (Ottawa) clients that want to try our robots after Christmas,” Cao says. She first approached the Ottawa market in late November, offering free trials that led to the five sales. The KettyBot retails for $15,000, while a BellaBot goes for $23,000. Rentals start at $500 a month, Cao says.

But that’s not what should be worrying people refusing to go back to work, or demanding higher wages in order to return to work. Buying Ketta or Bella bots may seem like a large chunk of change (which they are), but when these robots can manage more than half the workload of a real human, that requires less money being spent all around.

Afterall, customers don’t have to tip a robot, and if I can go out to eat and only pay for the cost of the food and nothing else? Yeah, I’m probably going to return to that restaurant a lot more where I don’t have to fork over 18-22% of the check to a waitress or waiter who didn’t get my order right in the first place.

Can you imagine what kind of trend that could lead to? In most European countries, tipping doesn’t happen and many in America have called for tipping to go away altogether here, too. That could have been a good thing for waiters and waitresses who just want a fair wage, but what good will it do them if they’ve been replaced by robots that need neither tip nor hourly wages?