Service robots get stars in their eyes in Europe

'Luigi' supports the service staff in the Germany's Schloss Filseck restaurant.

© Schloss Filseck

'Luigi' supports the service staff in the Germany's Schloss Filseck restaurant.

© Schloss Filseck Service robots get stars in their eyes in Europe Schloss Filseck in southwestern Germany serves some of the best Mediterranean cuisine in the country, now with help from a friendly Chinese robot.

Service robots are widely used in Asia and now they are slowly gaining a foothold in cafés and restaurants in mainland Europe. However they are still an exception in fine dining restaurants. The Michelin-starred Schloss Filseck restaurant in Uhingen is the first in this class in Germany to employ – pardon – purchase a service robot. However, 'Luigi', as the Bellabot is called to match Daniele Corona's fine Mediterranean cuisine, is not exactly a cheap employee. Depending on the model, the retail price for such a service robot from Pudu Robotics in Shenzhen, China, is up to €20,000. 

However, this investment is not designed to replace staff. Both chef Daniele Corona and the managing director of the Michelin-starred restaurant, Milos Vujicic, dispel the biggest prejudice against service robots: they do not replace a waiter, they support them. "The service staff can concentrate entirely on their role as hosts and make sure that the guest feels comfortable," says Vujicic. Because Luigi's job is just to bring the food to the table and later the dishes back to the kitchen. Human waiters take orders and set the table. "The waiter is already ready at the table when the robot brings the aperitifs, for example," says Daniele Corona.

After some initial scepticism, the innovation has been well received by both guests and staff. Vujicic points out that the robot saves service staff in the historic castle from walking many kilometres every day. That's because "some tables are 80 metres away from the kitchen". In addition, a robot with its four storage levels, each of which can carry ten kilos, can transport much more on a single journey than a human can with two hands.

The Bellabot is equipped with artificial intelligence, can avoid obstacles and can be programmed to find its way to any table. It has a cat-like "face", can blink its eyes and also speak. In the Michelin-starred restaurant, 'Luigi' wears a waistcoat and bow tie as a matter of course. "All in all, he makes the workplace more attractive," says Milos Vujicic. He emphasises why service robots complement human wait staff. "This is part of the digitalisation offensive, which gastronomy has long resisted" and then adds: "But we can't be digitalised away".