The Insurance Implications of Using Robots as a Hospitality Solution

25/08/20 General

How to maintain social distancing within hospitality venues is a major dilemma for many hospitality providers used to engaging with customers as an integral part of service delivery. Serving food by conveyor belts is one option, whilst others are considering introducing robots to wait on customers. [1]

Whilst predictions are that there will be strong demand for meals in eateries immediately after lockdown, if safe service then requires more distance between tables and the serving of fewer covers, the cost of the overheads may not make re-opening economic sense, particularly if staff wages are no longer being met by the coronavirus job retention scheme.  There is already talk of a significant number of redundancies.

Robots have already been introduced in some hospitality businesses, leaving others to consider it. In April 2019, a chain of restaurants and tea rooms called Tea Terrace made headlines when it launched the first robotic waitresses and named its original after Theresa May.  Robotic waitress Theresa became Europe’s first robot who could communicate with diners.[2]  She was also skilled enough to avoid obstacles and plan the best way to reach individual tables and, being fitted with a double tray, could deliver food and refreshments and explain to customers what treats she was serving up.  Being able to both frown and smile made her more human and she also had a fair degree of energy, only requiring a charge-up every other day! 

Global fast-food chain, McDonalds, is rumoured to be debating whether its drive-thru outlets could operate via Artificial Intelligence[3], with robots handling the customer liaison and humans the cooking and bagging.  Piccadilly Circus’s Trocadero boasts robot BellaBot[4] and the Yamm World Buffet in Dundee also has a robotic waitress.[5]

The advantages of robots, who will not demand a pay rise or call in sick, are clear but they can come with downsides.  When the Henn na Hotel chain in Japan introduced androids, they were found to be a security risk, as hackers could infiltrate them and then do things such as viewing bedrooms.[6] The Chief Technical Officer and founder of the Intelligent IT automation and software company SaltStack, Thomas Hatch, believes that “Many smaller companies lack the proclivity or motivation to secure such devices,” making cyber crime a real issue.

Cyber security should be a consideration for most businesses, with those who do use robotics having more to safeguard against than many. Cyber insurance can not only compensate for cyber-related losses but also arm the insured with vital IT back-up, to help handle any crisis – of great value to smaller businesses with no IT department.  It is important that, in the quest to re-open and introduce social distancing, hospitality providers do not overlook their cyber security and the gateways that robots can provide for those wishing to enter business computer networks.  

You may well have a new-look hospitality business if you open your doors when permitted to do so and it is important that you consider whether the changes require you to consider other insurance options. If you need help with this, please get in touch. 

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/