Local residents who stopped by Antigua's in El Dorado this week may have noticed an interesting new hire tagging along with their server.
Earlier this week, the restaurant welcomed a new robot server that helps deliver food to diners. Armed with an array of sensors and a stack of trays - and the ability to say "excuse me" to forms that it detects as human, among other things - the robot, named Chacha by the staff, has made an impression already.
"Customers, yesterday when a server would come with their food and their tray would say 'where's the robot?'" said Antigua's manager Lili Sanchez.
Sanchez said the restaurant's management saw the robot at a convention focused on restaurant technology. The robot was designed by Bear Robotics and was purchased in part to assist with the amount of walking and carrying plate-laden trays that servers do, Sanchez said. Bear Robotics calls the product the Servi Plus, according to their website. Some servers have already said expressed appreciation the fact that they have to carry far fewer trays from kitchen to tables during their shifts, according to Sanchez.
"We really like it, it helps a lot... A lot of the servers have worked here for a very long time and work doubles. It's a long distance to walk carrying a tray. So, even though they have to hand the plates to the customers, they don't have to carry [as] much weight," she said.
To use Chacha, servers simply place food on it and select, using a large touch screen interface, tables for it to go to. It can be programmed to visit several tables with food and will return to the kitchen once the set tasks are complete.
Sanchez said she was told by a Bear Robotics that Antigua's was the first restaurant outside of the west and east coasts of the U.S. to purchase a Servi from them.
A common and justifiable concern about robotics and automation in various industries is, of course, that technology takes jobs from human beings. Sanchez said that she sees the restaurant's new addition more as a tool, however, rather than anything that replaces a human worker.
"I don't think its replacing anyone or anyone is losing a job. Especially in the food industry - I've been here for like, 20 years - and restaurants never fully staffed, they're always short-handed... We're not replacing anyone - it's just a tool to help," she said.
The biggest impression Sanchez has noticed so far, though, is on customers, particularly those on the younger and older ends of the spectrum.
"All the children when they come and see it are like 'wow,' and walk behind the robot... And even though it can't open doors or bring plates by itself, it's still cool that we have this technology," Sanchez said.
She added that she has spoken to several senior customers about their thoughts on Chacha.
"One comment I really liked, he said 'I never thought I'd live [in] this era," Sanchez continued
The investment in Chacha was, Sanchez said, as much an effort to make things more efficient in the restaurant as it was a marketing play meant to catch the eye of customers and the community and to bring something new to town. So far, it seems to be working on all fronts.
"It's just cool to think about it - I went to a restaurant and a robot delivered my enchiladas. That's why we wanted to try [this]," Sanchez said.