Meet the cat-like robot now delivering orders at St. John's sushi restaurant

Meet the cat-like robot now delivering orders at St. John's sushi restaurant
Andrew Hawthorn/CBC
Andrew Hawthorn/CBC

Sushi Island has added two robot servers to its staff to help deliver food to customers, one for each of its locations in St. John's.

The BellaBot has cat ears and tiers of trays to transport dishes from the kitchen to hungry customers in the dining room.

Once it gets to the table it informs the customer which tray their order is on, and the diner removes their dish, which frees up the human wait staff to concentrate on other tasks, such as packing take out orders, clearing tables or refilling water.

"I honestly really like it. It's really helpful, especially when it gets busy because it cuts down on how much we have to take out ourselves," said Chelsea Terry, a server at the restaurant's location on Kenmount Road.

But she said human interaction is still an important part of the dining experience, and important to Sushi Island owner Bin Guo as well.

If you pet it, it purrs. And if you pet it too much, it gets mad at you. - Chelsea Terry

"He wants us to be out on the floor and he wants us to be still communicating with customers so that they don't just feel like they're alone. So it's kind of like a work side-by-side thing rather than a replacement thing."

The BellaBot, by Chinese company Pudu Robotics, displays a cat-like face on its screen, and it has a feline personality to match.

"If you pet it, it purrs. And if you pet it too much, it gets mad at you," Terry told CBC Radio's On The Go.

Sushi Island
Sushi Island

There has been a mixed reaction to the new staff addition on social media, with some people complaining that a robot server will replace human workers, but Terry said customers are enjoying the experience, and employees are keeping their jobs.

"Everyone in the restaurant absolutely loves it. I've seen some people worried about our jobs and stuff online. We're safe. We are still employed, but it's actually kind of really fun."

Bella a boost for business

Guo said he got the BellaBots to help with physical distancing measures due to COVID-19, and to attract customers s well.

So far it has worked.

Guo had to hire another person to help in the kitchen and has also increased hours for servers in the evening since the robots started rolling in mid-January.

There are more technological innovations planned for the Kenmount Road location — a conveyor belt, also known as a sushi train — that winds through the restaurant, allowing customers to collect dishes as they move past seating areas.

Guo said there has been a delay getting a technician to install the train because of the pandemic, but when it is in place both robot servers will operate at the downtown location.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador