PETALING JAYA: While the temporary freeze on applications for hiring foreign workers will be lifted from today, as Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan announced on Tuesday, the effect of the earlier decision (to freeze hiring) has come up with a weird solution in the form of a waiter robot in restaurants.
Called intelligent service robots (ISRs) or smart delivery robots, their users say the machines are here to stay in restaurants where they serve to reduce overhead and are affordable to rent and own long-term.
Platinum Strength Sdn Bhd, in partnership with Keenon Robotics Malaysia, an artificial intelligence company that focuses on indoor intelligent service robots, said each ISR provided by the company costs RM30,800.
However, it runs an installment system where its clients only pay RM1,812 per month for 17 months to own an SRI.
As of last March, there were 250 robotic servers operating in the country, said Platinum Strength COO Mohamad Fadzil Che Rus.
He said there are other values in adopting robots in business operations.
“By employing server robots, restaurateurs can reduce their labor costs.
“The salary of a human waiter can be as high as RM3,000 due to the difficulty in obtaining them. But a server robot only costs RM1,812 per month to own. He also doesn’t get sick or demand higher salaries for years of service or experience.
“In a single trip, our robots can serve up to four tables or destination points with four trays of heavy plates, whereas a human server can only carry one.
“The robots can also run for a minimum of 12 hours on a single charge, which makes them very cost effective.
“Labour issues have long been a pain point in the restaurant industry and have resulted in declining business revenues.
“The problem cannot be solved even after the Ministry of Human Resources lifted the ban on hiring foreign workers because waiter jobs have little career progression.
“So server bots are the long-term solution,” he said.
Malaysian Association of Indian Restaurant Owners (Primas) President J. Suresh concurred with Fadzil’s assessment and said that ISR had helped reduce overhead costs by around 15% due to the need fewer workers.
“There are around 50 Primas members using them in their operations so far since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 due to a shortage of workers in their restaurants.
“Restaurants still need workers to do other jobs, like washing dishes, picking up banana leaves and dirty plates, and also taking orders from customers,” he said.
Suresh said that although each robot costs more than RM1,000 per month in installments, depending on which company the ISR is purchased from, maintenance is low as it uses modern technology, which is one of the reasons. for which operators choose to continue to use them.
“The majority of operators have one ISR, but a few have two in their restaurants.
“In the next three to five years, we may see more and more use of these robots. Over time, advances in technology will see newer and more advanced robots working in our restaurants,” he said.
He said Primas hopes the government will undertake a study into the problems faced by restaurants in the country and take proactive steps to help them.
“We hope the government will step in to provide grants or soft loans at low interest rates so that restaurants can retrofit their premises to accommodate robotic technology,” he said.
Suresh said restaurant owners fully support upgrading and using cutting-edge technology, but they need government help to do so.
On what customers think of robots, Suresh said, “The younger generation, especially kids, love them. Sometimes there are several orders because of the robots that come and deliver the food to the table.
“However, some middle-aged and elderly customers find it cumbersome when food is delivered by robots. They prefer human interaction with servers.
“But the world is changing and we have to adapt or be left behind,” he said.