Dining with droids: Robot waiters deployed in East Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If you have been out to eat in East Memphis recently, you may have witnessed the first signs of the robot uprising. There is no need to panic, though, because these robots are built to serve food, not kill.

The cyber servers at El Porton on Poplar Avenue and Highland Street were purchased from a company in Atlanta and look like a mix between R2-D2 and a Roomba.

FOX13 asked one of the robots how it liked its new job but did not get a response.

The robots might not be great conversationalists, but they are capable of speaking. They are able to sing “Happy Birthday” to guests and can tell customers to move if they are standing in their path.

“If you get right by them, they will say, ‘You’re in my way, can you please move?’” Maricela Mata, general manager of El Porton, said.

Mata said the robots were rolled out two weeks ago and have quickly become a hit with customers.

“‘Woah! What is this? This is so beautiful and awesome. They’re videotaping all the time,” she said. “They like them, they like them.”

The robots, named Bella 1 and Bella 2, have screens that display animated cat faces.

FOX13 spoke to customers who had nothing but nice things to say about the attending androids.

“The little robot seemed so friendly. With a human being, you can be up or down,” Edward Dillard, an El Porton regular, said. “The robot is just smiling, going, ‘Here is your meal.’ It was kind of cute!”

Dillard said Wednesday was his first time being waited on by a robot, but he expects to see more of them given the rapid technological progress of the modern day.

“Let’s face it. We are coming into an age where AI is going to be not taking over, but helping, assisting,” he said. “Might as well get used to it.”

Though the robot helpers might seem like something from science fiction, Mata said they can’t cook and a waiter is still required to unload the food. She doesn’t expect the restaurant to be fully staffed by robots any time soon, but she does expect them to be a huge help during lunch rushes.

“It’s not replacing anybody, it’s only trying to give better service to the customers,” she said.

Mata said each robot cost around $25,000 and took eight hours to program to the restaurant’s floorplan.