CBC NEWS: KEENON robot servers to reboot business in Winnipeg Korean restaurant

Owners say $26,000 automaton attracts customers while reducing contacts

CBC News · Posted: Mar 30, 2022 5:00 AM CT | Last Updated: March 30


The robot server at Hong Du Kkae restaurant in Winnipeg delivers a meal to diner Andrew Zhang. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The owners of a Korean restaurant in Winnipeg are hoping their robot server will attract customers back to dine in safely.

Dirk and Michelle Wang, owners of Hong Du Kkae on Pembina Highway, added the talking, nameless automaton with wheels to their staff in February.

"It really helped actually.… The kids love them. Customers get interested, they do photo shoots, they take videos, and our servers obviously love them. We want to make their work easier, right?" said Michelle Wang. 

The server, built by Keenon Robotics, can be programmed to take trays of food to multiple tables in one trip, and will navigate around people and other obstacles.  

It announces the delivery of the food by saying,"Your delicious meal is here," in a friendly female voice, and plays a jingle before wheeling away. 

The owners of Hong Du Kkae in Winnipeg say the $26,000 they invested in a robot server is paying dividends. 

"If it's busy here, and we all of a sudden get five or six tables and we only have one server at that time then the robot can actually deliver things to the customers in one trip, and that saves a lot of time for the server," said Michelle Wang. 

"And it's safe. Especially during a pandemic you're actually limiting those actual physical contacts, and some of the customers would prefer that."

The couple, originally from China, own an overseas courier service next door to Hong Du Kkae.

They bought the restaurant in the summer of 2020 after the previous owner was forced to sell due to the pandemic. They said they were already regular customers and loved the food.

On a recent trip to Vancouver, they noticed several restaurants had robots, which were quite popular with children and customers. Dirk said his friend, who lives in Vancouver, offered to sell him one, which he said would be the first in Winnipeg.

"I spent so much time deciding, because it's very expensive. But at last, OK, I give it a try," he said. 

He hopes the $26,000 price tag will pay off, but for now, it's making the servers and customers happy.

Andrew Zhang, who ordered the bibimbap and "tasty" Korean pancake on Tuesday, said the robot surpassed his expectations. 

Despite not having a name, the robot server at Hong Du Kkae has proven popular, with some customers posing for selfies with it. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"I prefer doing more things with myself other than talk to others. The robot actually makes me more comfortable especially during the pandemic to reduce the contacts with someone else," he said. 

Server Pinko Zhou said it makes her job easier too. 

"I think it's helped me a lot, definitely," she said.

While she still takes the customers' orders, Zhou said the robot delivers the food and side dishes, reducing her travel time and need to visit tables over and over. 


Some customers tip the robot

While many restaurants across the country have been struggling with a staff shortages, the Wangs said that's not why they bought the machine — they want to attract diners and make things easier on their servers.

"That actually saved their energy so they can do their work better," said Michelle. 

Dirk Wang added customers still tip the servers, and some even insist on tipping the robot too.

"I think it's fantastic!" he said, laughing.