When you go to a pub or bar, if the staff are friendly and helpful, it greatly increases your enjoyment of the experience.
Conversely, dealing with a grumpy person serving your pint or margarita is likely to significantly reduce your happiness levels.
For people with a regular favorite bar, the person behind the counter can even become a friend and confidant. Or, as famed Canadian economist Harry Gordon Johnson once said: “A bartender’s greatest success lies in his ability to exactly satisfy his customer.”
Soon, however, the bar staff may not even be human. Enter Cecilia, a robotic bartender who mixes and serves cocktails and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to talk to customers in much the same way Alexa, on an Amazon Echo speaker, or Siri, on an iPhone can answer you.
The unit looks a bit like a tall fruit machine, only with an animated bartender – Cecilia – appearing on a large upright video screen. Either you tell her which cocktail you want, or you order it on the touch-screen below and pay for the drink by tapping your credit card or phone.
Your cocktail is then mixed and prepared inside the machine and poured into a glass in the vending slot.
“Cecilia works on speech recognition and AI technology,” says Elad Kobi, CEO of the Israeli company behind the technology – Cecilia.AI. “He can chat with customers and when they choose a specific cocktail, he can prepare it, live”.
The company claims that each unit can be filled with 70 liters of different types of spirits and that it can serve up to 120 cocktails per hour. At least if customers don’t hang around for long chats.
The company first released the robot on February 24 this year, World Bartender Day. It has since been used at corporate events held by Microsoft, accounting group KPMG and technology company Cisco.
Customers can buy a Cecilia for $ 45,000 (£ 34,000) or rent one for $ 2,000 a month.
Kobi believes that the traditionally resistant to change pub and bar industry may increasingly turn to this technology in an attempt to “wow” customers and stand out from the crowd.
“Companies realize they need to do different things than others to attract people there,” he says. “Technology and innovation can do it.”
Celilia.AI also focuses its system on hotels, airports, stadiums, casinos and cruise ships.
Proponents of bartending robots also note that they can help bars become more efficient, which, in turn, helps their bottom line.
“The main problem with having a location is the constant problems with the workforce,” says Alan Adojaan. He is the CEO of Yanu, an Estonian company that recently introduced a rival bartender robot.
“There is always a shortage of workers. You have to train them, but then they leave. There is an enormous turnover of personnel”.
He says the staff of the robot bar can help solve this problem and also put an end to other factors, such as paying overly generous measures or offering free drinks to friends, problems that, according to him, could be considered by the owners. of the premises as a “given”.
“For example, if someone orders a gin and tonic on a Yanu, you [the bar owner] can specify that the robot pours four centimeters of gin and the exact amount of tonic and lemon juice, “says Adojaan.
He adds that another perk of a Yanu (cost – $ 150,000) is that it can serve drinks faster – and to more people – than human bartenders would never be able to.
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“We aim for places that have a huge turnover of customers, such as sporting events, festivals or nightclubs,” he says. “The machine is very fast: it can work at the speed of three and a half bartenders and produce 100 drinks per hour. It can hold up to 1,200 drinks.”
Additionally, bartending robots can provide round-the-clock service in environments where doing it with a human bartender can prove costly and difficult.
“Think of a 24-hour hotel lobby or an airport. For places like this you’d need to hire three shifts, and that’s pretty expensive,” says Adojaan. “So those will be our playgrounds, mostly.”
One of its Yanu robots is currently making non-alcoholic cocktails in the Estonian pavilion at the World Expo event in Dubai.
As with other industries, the rise in bartending robotics is likely to raise concerns about job losses.
Emanuele Rossetti, the head of Italian bartender robot manufacturer Makr Shakr, says that while some bartenders and women will lose their jobs, the hope is that they can find alternative jobs within the wider hospitality industry.
To help affected human bar staff do just that, he launched an initiative in the United States in 2019, so for every sale of one of his units he would give a bartender or woman $ 1,000 (£ 747) to help them retrain.
Mark Shakr’s two robot models are named Toni and Bruno and have been installed on nine Royal Caribbean cruise ships. They cost from 99,000 euros ($ 114,000; £ 85,000).
However, while some robotics experts see the technology spread, others in the hospitality industry say that human bar staff needn’t worry.
“Robots will not replace traditional ones [human-staffed] bar, “says Jan Hiersemenzel, head of marketing at Swiss company F&P Robotics, which manufactures a robot bar server called the Barney Bar.
“The independent robot bars are [instead] be set up in places of entertainment and hospitality, or on the occasion of events where otherwise a traditional bar would not have been set up “.
British pub chain JD Wetherspoon is certainly not interested in buying a fleet of robots to work behind its bars. “In a word – no,” says a company spokesperson. “Wetherspoons would never do that.”
Yet Yanu’s Mr. Adojaan says he is confident of future sales to regular bars, and especially nightclubs.
“First, having an argument with a bartender is a movie cliché, at least here in Europe,” he says. “And in a nightclub, you don’t have an argument. You shout at the bartender to get your drink quicker.”
Bar staff themselves, he adds, often have the unenviable task of dealing with “nasty drunkards.” “As with other jobs that aren’t fun or artistic, they will be replaced by robots on a daily basis,” he says.
And for customers who like to have a chat with their bartender or woman, Mr. Adojaan says robots will acquire more and more human personalities over time.
“We’re trying to develop something … that can hold a conversation, or make a joke, ask if you liked your drink or suggest another,” he says. “The most interesting part of the project is the effort to do it [appear] alive, or have character. ”
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