R2-D2, Johnny 5 and Rosie – robots serving people food has long been a science fiction theme. On Friday, GEN Korean BBQ House in Montclair made it happen.
A system of tracks running through the dining area allows wheeled robots to deliver food from the kitchen to the table. But it’s not all robots, according to David Ghim, senior corporate manager for the company. Waiters will still take orders and engage with customers.
“This is the first restaurant that we’re implementing this robotic system and we’re hoping, that it helps (our employees) in providing great customer service and that customers are enjoying it as well,” Ghim said Friday.
GEN Korean BBQ House opened its 12th location in Montclair at 5247 Arrow Highway, the 10,500-square-foot building that once housed Hometown Buffet.
CEO David Kim, who was previously the CEO of Baja Fresh, had the idea for robots.
“(David Kim) saw how he can help the servers,” Ricky Kim, marketing director for GEN Korean BBQ, said. “He’s always talking about doing something different. That’s his motto. Do it different.”
Doing it different is something GEN Korean BBQ hopes can continue at its other locations. The Montclair location is being used as a pilot program, according to Ghim, before they look at further expansion into future or existing locations. The company’s first southland location opened in 2014 in Cerritos
The restaurant has partnered with a robotics company to make the robot delivery system a reality, although Ricky Kim said they won’t disclose the name of the company because of a non-disclosure agreement.
“If this works, when you get better production out of anything, and if that helps out for service and for revenues, it’s a no-brainer to put it everywhere,” Ricky Kim said.
Each order is placed on a robot and sent to a table in less than a minute, according to Michael Yates, vice president of operations for GEN Korean BBQ House.
Freshly prepared meats, seafood, and vegetables and traditional Korean side-dishes are brought to the table by a little LED-lit bot.
“It’s going to take a lot of pressure off of our operations and it’s really going to improve the customer experience,” Yates said.
This is the wave of the future, according to Jay Prag, professor of economics and finance at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He said he expects to see such technology become more widely adopted by the food service and restaurant industry in coming years.
“There will ultimately be fewer jobs in the industry,” Prag said. “They won’t go quickly because people still like having a face to face encounter with a human waiter, but one waiter will be able to do many more tables because of the technological innovation.”
While many industries are expecting increasing robotics and automation in the workplace to replace jobs, Ghim said that’s not what the company intends to do with its introduction of robot servers at the Montclair location. The Montclair location employs 150 – not including the robots who assist.
“Our main focus is to provide great customer service and we believe that a big part of that is customer server interaction,” Ghim said. “We want that emotional connection to be there with the guest during their meal and we believe that’s something that can’t be replaced just with the robots.”
The innovation is something that is exciting, said Brad Umansky, president of the Rancho Cucamonga-based commercial real estate firm Progressive Real Estate Partners and an expert on retail and restaurant real estate in the Inland Empire.
“Clearly this is something that is innovative, unique and attractive to consumers,” Umansky said. “Consumers enjoy being part of a unique experience, seeing something that they’ve never seen before.”
One thing is clear. You don’t have to tip a robot.