Adam is a barista. He stands in his café in the New York borough of Brooklyn from morning to early evening. He doesn't take breaks or vacations. He has never heard of a salary. He only occasionally dances to “YMCA” by the Village People. Adam is the first robot coffee maker in the US East Coast metropolis. But the New Yorkers haven't beaten him up yet.
Sunny Lam founded Botbar Cafe in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood and insists that Adam is not a PR ploy. Rather, the trash can-sized robot with two gripping arms in its store could free up a lot of resources for human employees and thus improve service. But yes, Lam also knows that there is a long way to go to convince customers. "Do you accept a robot barista instead of a real barista?" – that’s the big question, says Lam. Some guests were very interested, others were put off by the sight of the machine mounted on the counter.
“The idea of being served by a robot for my coffee is horrifying,” says a New Yorker who buys her hot drink from people in a café very close to the Botbar. It is the personal contact that makes her go to “her” cafe. She has grown fond of the waitresses there. It's a nice feeling to build a relationship with them. "You can't really build a relationship with the robot," she says. Many people also think similarly when it comes to the use of machines in other industries that rely on human contact: in addition to gastronomy, especially in the education sector or in care.
The impression that also emerges in the Botbar Café: Barista Adam from the company Richtech Robotic is currently more of a gimmick, and even in New York it is questionable whether she can find a niche. The robot is no better than its human colleagues. On the contrary: So far, drinking coffee in the Botbar has been rather inconvenient. You have to order on a screen, you can't just talk to Adam. And if you ask visitors whether they would rather dance to "YMCA" with a person or a machine, the answer should be clear for most people.
But Adam could be seen as a clumsy precursor to automation in the hospitality industry, where simple tasks could be performed by machines in the future, making operations more efficient. In fact, more and more stores in the US are experimenting with robots.
The "Spyce" restaurant in Boston has its rice bowls cooked by machines, in San Francisco sandwiches come out of an automated burger line and in a bar on "Royal Caribbean" cruise ships, robots mix cocktails. There is already a robo-barista on the other coast of the USA – at San Francisco airport. Public reviews suggest that the “Cafe X” is not a huge success and its coffee barely meets the expectations of the spoiled public.
A breakthrough for robots in the catering industry is still a long way off – and perhaps it will never come. In a recent essay on the subject, Oxford psychologist Charles Spence writes: "While robot bartenders and chefs currently appear to have some novelty and/or experimental value, the financial case for their inclusion in the hospitality industry has yet to be convincingly demonstrated become." So far there are “hardly any signs” that such automation will find its way into the catering world.
Sunny Lam, who continues to work on his breakthrough with robot Adam, also feels this. He says there is still a lot of work to do in the Botbar because Adam doesn't yet work smoothly with the other devices. He didn't want to offer sample coffee that day. It was precisely because of these teething problems that he started in the quieter Brooklyn and not in Manhattan, says Lam: "Adam isn't ready for the city."