As the hospitality industry continues to struggle with staff shortages, we are witnessing an increase in artificial intelligence (AI) solutions in use, fulfilling manual roles and easing the burden on overstretched teams throughout the sector. We enlisted the help of Stefano Bensi, General Manager at SoftBank Robotics to shed more light on this emerging technology and how it might transform hospitality as we know it.
WHAT IS AI AND WHAT IS A COBOT?
AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines. In robotics, this enables cobots (collaborative robots) to work in partnership with your existing teams to provide better customer experience and improve business processes.
WHAT OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE FOR AI/ROBOTICS IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY?
In a fast paced, (ever changing), hospitality landscape, technology is advancing in industry to improve processes, increase guest experience, and ultimately make things easier. Throughout the hotel and restaurant industry as an example, IT, E-commerce and other technological solutions have or are being introduced at speed, and are now a familiar sight for guests in front of house operations. Robotic solutions can provide real life support to operations teams in many areas. For example, with the hospitality industry constantly being struck with labour shortages, cobotics offer much-needed assistance as a solution that is designed to perform safely and effectively alongside staff, customers and guests.
HOW DOES THIS BENEFIT THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR?
With a cobot on hand, menial and time-consuming tasks can be taken care of autonomously. Staff have more time to concentrate on higher-value, more intricate jobs like touchpoint cleaning (in the case of a robotic vacuum cleaner), or spending more time with customers (in the case of tray delivery robots). We know that in the hospitality industry it is a real struggle to recruit and retain staff, and this means that robots can help add additional support to existing teams, plug labour gaps and shortages, and work when necessary to improve processes. This in turn helps to increase customer satisfaction (potentially leading to higher gratuity rates in restaurants) and also allows staff the opportunity to further upsell their food and beverage offering.
This also frees up time to better equip them if reactive problems occur. We have also heard from customers who feel that the robotic solutions work as “trusted partners” and has decreased their stress levels through a more managed workload.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS?
Cobots are just that – a collaborative robot. So, whilst they can offer tremendous benefits, they also still require an element of human interaction. However, we do not see this as a negative limitation as such, rather they become trusted companions and partners of the existing staff already in your teams and work to support them and increase productivity and experiences.
HOW ARE DINERS ADAPTING TO AN INCREASE OF AI?
In our case, the majority of our clients are still offering a human connection. The robot simply aids in this service – and this is of benefit to the diner as it allows the staff to focus more on the experience and spend more time at the table providing great customer service. It also means that the more tedious tasks are taken care of – which in turn leads to better staff satisfaction. We have found that diners are both very receptive to robots, and also in most cases enjoy seeing the implementation of technology within a restaurant setting – it really sets a restaurant apart from its competitors.