Jul 14, 2023 - Food and Drink

These Richmond restaurants now have robot servers

Meet Bella. The cutest server in all of Richmond. Photo: Karri Peifer/Axios

Our robot overlords have arrived — and they couldn't be cuter.

Driving the news: Robot waiters are now serving up meals at two Richmond Plaza Aztecas: Short Pump and Broad Street.

Why it matters: They're awesome. And they purr.

The brand is called BellaBot, the latest food delivery robot from China-based PuduTech, built with four tiers of trays for a body and the face (and ears) of a cat.

What's happening: BellaBot came on the market in spring 2020 and hit the floor for her first shift at a Richmond Plaza Azteca at the close of last year.

  • And she's a she, Darwin Colina, general manager at Plaza Azteca Short Pump, tells Axios. They call her Bella.

How it works: Restaurant staff (the human ones) load up Bella with up to six plates and type in in a table number on her little cat face, and off she goes.

  • She can talk (as much as your Siri or Alexa can), encourages pets, plays dozens of songs (including “Happy Birthday”) and has multiple facial expressions, each one more adorable than the last.

What they're saying: "People love it," Colina says, adding that the restaurant picked up new regulars whose kids love the "robot restaurant."

Yes, but: BellaBot isn't cheap. One costs about $15,000.

  • Since the Virginia Beach-based Mexican chain allows its managers a lot of autonomy, Colina and the Broad Street GM had the freedom to make the robot purchase for their individual stores.

Worth noting: While some restaurants have added robots to help bridge staffing gaps, Plaza added them to keep up with changing industry trends, the same way they keep on top of cocktail or food trends.

  • But Bella didn't take anyone's job, instead she's just making it easier for the human servers to focus on customers while Bella does the heavy lifting — literally.
  • "It's the future, and Plaza wants to be ahead of the curve," Colina says.

What's next: Richmond diners may see more BellaBots around town. Colina says managers at restaurant competitors have been popping in for lunch — and with robot questions.

  • He doesn't mind sharing though. He gets money off his $15,000 tab for each referral.
  • Besides, Plaza is already eyeing another new, hot restaurant trend, but Colina isn't sharing specifics. Neither is Bella.
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