Adding byte to your appetite
Pin Xian Lou restaurant using robot staff to drive up business
One is called Le Le. The other, Xiao Jin. In Mandarin, the first name means Happiness and the second, Little Gold.
They are humanoid robots that recently started working at hot pot restaurant Pin Xian Lou.
Able to talk and sing, they cost about $10,000 each.
It is the restaurant's way to drum up business amid a gloomy economic climate.
Pin Xian Lou's co-founder, Li Yin Shan, 23, told The New Paper that the robots have been a hit and the restaurant is seeing a 70 per cent increase in the number of patrons.
She said in Mandarin: "The robots can entertain, converse and sing to customers.
"Many customers enjoy taking photos with the robots and conversing with them."
The restaurant opened along Geylang Road in September.
When this reporter tried speaking to Le Le by asking it how it was in English, it just stood quietly and did not respond.
It also did not respond when asked the question in Mandarin.
It only responded when Miss Li spoke directly into its microphone located at its neck and asked it to sing a song.
"Can you sing a Lin Junjie (J J Lin) song for us," she asked in Mandarin, and it started playing She Says, a hit by the Singaporean Mandopop star.
Although the robots offered several clever and snappy replies, including declining a request for a photo, the rest of the conversation fell flat.
In the food business, quality of food would ultimately be the most important thing for a sustainable business. The robots can only augment good food.Dr Clive Choo
The restaurant's director, Ms Joe Ng, 39, said they found the robots in Guangzhou, China, while shopping for furniture for the restaurant.
Le Le is tasked to entertain customers during meal intervals while Xiao Jin offers greetings outside the restaurant.
The robots can also serve food to customers upon request.
But due to space constraints and concerns over overwhelming demand, the robots mainly entertain customers, said Miss Li.
Dr Clive Choo, senior lecturer in strategy at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Nanyang Business School, said even though the robots were attracting customers, good food would always be the priority.
He said: "In the food business, quality of food would ultimately be the most important thing for a sustainable business. The robots can only augment good food."
Associate professor Boh Wai Fong, who teaches information technology and operations management at Nanyang Business School, said the robots seem to be an investment in marketing, rather than an investment in productivity.
She added: "It does not really replace any manual labour, which is the real pain point faced by most SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) now.
"I would guess that it may be effective to the extent that they now attract some attention... but the novelty might wear off after a while."