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"Impress guests better, faster & more efficiently"

Thomas Holenstein during an interview in the Andulino restaurant in Ebikon

"Impress guests better, faster & more efficiently"

"Many guests come simply because new robots are being used," says Thomas Holenstein, owner and managing director of Sebotics and the parent company Precom Group AG. He sees the traveling waiters as a valuable support in everyday life. Where and why, he explains in an interview.

Thomas Holenstein during an interview in the Andulino restaurant in Ebikon
Thomas Holenstein during an interview in the Andulino restaurant in Ebikon

Service robots currently still play a subordinate role in everyday restaurant and hotel life as well as for guests. Will that change in the future?

Yes. I assume that the technology will continue to gain acceptance as it keeps getting better and more helpful. Robots are already a real relief today if they are used correctly. Many guests and employees have prejudices against robots because they think they are not up to the task. Our robots are very easy to use.

What is the potential of robots?

Wherever there are long distances and heavy loads have to be transported. In addition, people can devote more time to the guests again, because the robots remove plates autonomously, for example. There is more time for competent recommendations of dishes and wines. This often promotes sales as well. Precisely because humans play such a large role, it is important for machines to carry out strenuous work. The current specialist staff problem is leading to a rethink in many catering establishments.

The marketing aspect is also interesting: Robots have an entertaining character and are therefore very suitable as an advertising opportunity. The Coffee Island in the Swiss town of Yverdon-les-bain sets the service robot BellaBot already and even markets them. Guests come especially for this reason and want to see the robots live in action.

Where are there currently obstacles in the use of robots?

Man is quickly inhibited by what he does not understand. This is nothing new. People always believe that progressive digitization will lead to job losses. Exactly the opposite takes place. Monotonous work will disappear because machines can do it better, faster and more efficiently. That is why lifelong learning is important. In the future there will be many more professions that deal with digital processes and whose names we do not yet know.

What robots does your company offer?

We are the exclusive Swiss importer of the robot range Pudu Technology Inc. BellaBot and HelloBot mainly used in restaurants. They differ in appearance and loading capacity. Serving and clearing plates are her main activities. We program the robots to the conditions on site. They can recognize tables and areas autonomously. 

flashbot are also often used in hotels. Guests order food and drinks and the robot autonomously finds the right floor and the right room. Also the HelloBot, which has a large-capacity container, is used in the hotel industry. The Puductor 2 on the other hand, it is mainly used for disinfection. It cleans hotel rooms autonomously.

The robots are delivered almost ready to plug and play. They are given the room plan once and told where which table is. Then, thanks to sensors and navigation technology, they can move around the room all by themselves.

What acquisition costs do you currently have to reckon with?

A robot can be booked with a list price of around 20.000 euros without VAT. It has to be charged every day so that it is fully operational again the next day. So there are also energy costs. We offer several variants. There is the normal purchase variant and a leasing variant, or a payment variant. In addition, we offer a full service. We carry out repairs in our own repair department.

In terms of costs, however, the efficiency that the robot brings must also be taken into account. Some service staff of our customers walked up to 35.000 steps a day and were able to reduce this number by half. What must also not be forgotten is the already mentioned marketing advantage. Robots attract guests.

Are robots currently a serious help in everyday life or are they still more of an advertising stunt?

Systems have gotten better and smarter in recent years. Various sensors and laser distance systems ensure that robots avoid obstacles such as shifted chairs or guests in order to reach their destination quickly.

There are many concepts. While some users strive for an almost fully automatic service, others use the robots more as a clearing system.

In any case, robots today are able to process several orders one after the other at their distance. So if targets are closer to the location of the robots, they will be approached first. There are also robots that are designed to interact with guests or customers, for example to have a little chat. This may seem like a minor gimmick, but people tell their friends about these experiences, especially when the systems surprise them.

Of course, the robots are not able to do all the work that a human can do. But they are supportive. Repetitive tasks can service robot do it easily. This relieves the service and the job becomes more exciting overall because you can devote yourself to the guests again and are not "used" as pure work and towing power

What possibilities are still possible in the near future - keyword intelligent systems?

We are in negotiations with a research team that is already working on new systems for tomorrow's gastronomy. His wish is for the menu information to be told to the guest in the form of a story. The plan envisages that in the future guests can also be served better and more individually by robotic systems and that guests receive the food they need for their well-being. It is quite possible to save historical data in databases in order to draw evaluations from them later.

Human or robot – what do you prefer as a guest?

I would rather be served by a human. And that is precisely where the great advantage of robots lies. In the future, robots will take over the heavy work, so that the time for advising the guests can take over. Of course it depends on what kind of gastronomy it concerns. In the upscale sector, I like to be served by a human, in a fast-food establishment or in the canteen I also like to be served by a robot if it can complete the tasks more efficiently.

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