Local restaurant tackles staffing shortage with cat-themed ‘Bella-Bot’

By CityNews Kitchener Staff

A Waterloo restaurant has turned to an automated solution to maintain service levels to customers.

The owner of 168 Sushi Buffet said it's looking to shore up staffing levels brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After encountering one at another dining establishment, owner Lina Cui said she reached out to her franchise's commercial team to acquire a “BellaBot” — a “premium delivery robot” capable of simple tasks — to alleviate pressure on staff still working in the facility. 

Cui said benefits made available to staff members throughout COVID have made it difficult for her to bring on more employees.

And while the “BellaBot” unit has helped to relieve stress, she said she doesn't expect that it could completely replace what a worker can offer to their business. 

“It does have two functions,” said Cui. “What it does is it takes customers to their table … and it does help us deliver sushi plates.”

“We do need someone to be there to help function the robot. It doesn't take dishes by itself and deliver dishes by itself – we need to manually (operate them).”

Cui noted that a BellaBot unit is particularly expensive, and was initially “shocked” to learn that including one in her work force would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

According to the restaurant owner, units can range in price from $20,000 to $40,000.

While Cui said patron reception to the simple automaton have been “mostly positive,” she has heard concern over bringing in the unit in when there are individuals either losing their jobs, or not making enough to make ends meet.

If reception to the bot continues to be positive, Cui said she may consider making it a permanent fixture at the restaurant.

Though for now, the robotic assistant is “just temporary.” 

But with up to five positions still needing to be filled at the restaurant, and the holidays quickly approaching, that may end up changing.

“We're going to see if we're able to find more workers before the holidays,” Cui said. “If not, we may plan to get one or two more robots to help our workers for the time being.”

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