Due to a lack of candidates, a restaurant owner in Lot hires a robot waiter –

“Dear customers, your order is ready, please remove your dishes from the tray!” The invitation does not come from a lazy waiter, but from a robot, the last resort of a Lot restaurateur in the face of the growing recruitment difficulties experienced by his sector.

The arrival of the season is not so much the problem for Geoffrey Ruamps, 33, whose restaurant Cap 180 in Cieurac, near Cahors, only opens for lunch on weekdays and mainly welcomes employees from the neighboring activities. He needs help all year round to serve his 60 to 70 seats.

“Since Covid, it was very, very complicated,” he says. The rare candidates, who had to be tested despite their inexperience, ended up throwing in the towel. Catering is, he says, a “difficult” sector, “which no longer makes people dream”.

According to a recent study by the Ministry of Labor, 75% of companies in the accommodation and catering sector declared at the end of 2022 that they were experiencing recruitment difficulties.

So in the absence of flesh-and-blood servers, Geoffrey Ruamps turned to those made of metal and electronic chips.

The “Bella” server robot at the Le Cap 180 restaurant, in Cieurac, in the Lot, on May 14, 2024. Created by the Chinese start-up Pudu, the robot is equipped with sensors that allow it to identify obstacles and recognize the tables

Matthieu RONDEL – AFP

For 20,000 euros, he secured the services of a BellaBot, a sort of white tower on wheels approximately 1.30 meters high, adorned with cat ears and facial expressions, as well as, above all, four superimposed trays thanks to which it can serve several tables.

Its operation, in theory, is very simple: after scanning the layout of the tables in the room, the robot can bring the dishes from the kitchen to the customers, who serve themselves. “Bella” then detects the absence of the plates and can leave.

“It’s a huge time saver,” notes the boss. “But it doesn’t take orders, it doesn’t take care of the bar or the cafes… It remains pure robotics, so very, very limited operation.”

– “Refractories” –

And then, in practice, it gets complicated. That day, Geoffrey Ruamps and his wife Stéphanie Fourmy, 38, formed two large tables for reservations. Disturbed by the change in table layout, Bella stops a few meters from the guests. The owner of the premises must therefore accompany him to ensure the service.

630328f28a.jpg1716010267_895_Due-to-a-lack-of-candidat

The “Bella” server robot at the Le Cap 180 restaurant, in Cieurac, in the Lot, on May 14, 2024. Created by the Chinese start-up Pudu, the robot is equipped with sensors that allow it to identify obstacles and recognize the tables

Matthieu RONDEL – AFP

He also intervenes for other customers, whom the robot had nevertheless managed to reach. At the end of the service, the restaurateur with tattooed arms and a soft voice explains: “Some people are a little reluctant” to help themselves.

Most customers, often regulars, “totally” understand the process. After the surprise, they got used to it and some even found it amusing that Bella, when we stroked her ears, started to meow.

Others are less understanding, like Laurence Valentin, 58, who asserts: “If we paid people better, we might have a workforce!”

9e8b588301.jpg1716010267_546_Due-to-a-lack-of-candidat

The “Bella” server robot at the Le Cap 180 restaurant, in Cieurac, in the Lot, on May 14, 2024. Created by the Chinese start-up Pudu, the robot is equipped with sensors that allow it to identify obstacles and recognize the tables

Matthieu RONDEL – AFP

However, Geoffrey Ruamps claims to have offered 1,200 euros net for 25 hours per week, or almost 2,000 euros compared to full time. “In the end, we didn’t even talk about salary anymore. If someone needed 100 or 150 euros more, we fell in line, we had no choice,” he confides.

Faced with the “disarray” of the sector, the president of the Union of Hotel Trades and Industries of the Lot (UMIH 46), Quentin Pivaudran, also says he understands the use of server robots. “It’s sad, but it has the merit of working,” he says.

But according to him, the phenomenon is not intended to become widespread. “There are some types of restaurants where that will never work.”

By Valentin GRAFF / Cierac (France) (AFP) / © 2024 AFP

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