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Whilst many UK business sectors may be able to draw up a plan

Turning to Robots in the Post-Coronavirus Hospitality Sector has Insurance Implications

May 2020


Whilst many UK business sectors may be able to draw up a plan based around social-distancing to get back to work, the hospitality sector is left scratching its head when considering how it can possibly maintain social distancing when so much of its ethos is about engagement with customers.

One solution being considered is that of employing robotic waiting-on staff.  Some venues are said to be looking at deploying such technology in order to be able to open their doors, whilst using conveyor belts to deliver food and drink is another option.[1]

The hospitality sector is torn.  It wants to be able to benefit from the ‘honeymoon period’ when customers are again able to socialise but also does not want to have to operate on the basis of reduced dining covers, especially if staff are not then being paid by the coronavirus job retention scheme.  The industry fears that situation could lead to mass redundancies.

A number of hospitality businesses are considering the robotic option, which gained significant profile in April 2019, when the Tea Terrace chain of restaurants and tea rooms introduced the first robotic waitresses.  The first was named ‘Theresa’, after Theresa May, and was the first in Europe to be able to communicate with customers.[2] Theresa can negotiate her way around obstacles, plan a route to tables, deliver items on a double-tray to her customers and advise customers on what she is serving to them.  She can even frown or smile and only needs recharging overnight every other day!

McDonalds is also said to be considering Artificial Intelligence at its drive thru outlets[3], allowing robots to liaise with customers, whilst human staff bag up their burgers.  Another robot, BellaBot, has been previously deployed in the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus[4] and Dundee has had its own waitress robot at Yamm World Buffet.[5]

But there are some dangers attached to this, even if these robots will not call in sick or ask for more pay.  At Japan’s Henn na Hotel chain, androids were deployed in various roles, but these were proved to be hackable, causing issues such as remote viewing of bedrooms.[6]  This led Thomas Hatch, Chief Technical Officer and founder of the Intelligent IT automation and software company SaltStack to say, “Many smaller companies lack the proclivity or motivation to secure such devices.”

If you do deploy robotics, cyber security has to be a major consideration and thinking around this needs to include cyber insurance and the vital back-up that this provides for any company caught out.  Amidst the challenge to re-open hospitality outlets and still abide by social distancing, such security considerations may be overlooked and also overshadowed by the revelry that can surround the capabilities of robots. 

When it comes to finding right insurance protection for your ‘new-look’, post-coronavirus hospitality business, you can speak to someone about what insurances you require, and to what level, by using our ‘Find a Local Broker’ tool.

Sources:

[1] https://www.cityam.com/robot-waiters-half-the-tables-and-crossed-fingers-how-restaurants-will-reopen-after-uk-lockdown-ends/

[2] https://www.foodserviceequipmentjournal.com/london-restaurant-chain-becomes-first-in-the-uk-to-hire-robotic-waitress/

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/10/mcdonalds-acquires-ai-company-trying-to-automate-the-drive-thru.html

[4] https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/cat-robot-waiter-bellabot-ces-2020-a4330171.html

[5] https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/dundee-restaurant-unveils-first-robot-waiters-in-scotland/

[6] https://threatpost.com/bedside-hotel-robot-hacked-video/149491/


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