Robot restaurant worker elicits customer smiles, employee anxiety

CONCORD — At the Cajun Crack’n seafood restaurant in Concord, something’s cooking and not just in the kitchen.

“We walked in and we saw it moving around. It was very exciting to see,” said customer Kelly Keovannala.

Meet Rosie the Robot. She’s been working here for the past two months and she’s already a favorite among customers.

“Rosie’s cute. I like Rosie,” another customer, Patti Farr, said.

Waitress Michelle Magno said that, from the moment Rosie was powered up, not only has the service got better, so have the tips.

“People are excited to see her. A lot of my customers call her by ‘Rosie’ now,” Magno said.

Teddy Williams the vice president of sales at OrionStar USA, the company behind Rosie, said the robot can deliver food, pick up dirty dishes and play promotional videos on its screen. It doesn’t take orders but that’s just a matter of time.

“The applications are pretty varied. Whatever you can imagine, there’s really a way to fit Rosie in there,” Williams said.

Rosie’s never sick, she’s always on time and, for the most part, doesn’t have an attitude.

Officially called Lucki by the manufacturer, she got the nickname Rosie because she reminded customers of Rosey the robot maid in the 1960s cartoon The Jetsons.

No longer the stuff of science fiction, server robots are becoming increasingly popular, with tens of thousands of them gliding through restaurants across the country. While they are seen as an answer to the growing labor shortage in the food industry, some worry they’re doing more harm than good.

Djarae Lucas, lead organizer at ROC the Bay, a restaurant worker advocacy group, says these robots could decimate much-needed restaurant jobs.

“I think a lot of people see food service as an easy, simple job you only do once but, for a lot of us, it’s a way of life,” he said.

The company says the robot is there only to support humans. Meanwhile, waiters say they’re not worried — at least not yet.

“A lot of people still need that human interaction,” Magno remarked.

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