Hello and welcome: Robot waiters to the rescue amid virus

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Leah Hu, left, and her brother Leon demonstrate the use of robots for serving purposes or for dirty dishes collection, as part of a tryout of measures to respect social distancing and help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at the family's Royal Palace restaurant in Renesse, south-western Netherlands, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

RENESSE – You can always count on a robot for perfect timing.

When Shaosong Hu saw robotic waiters serving food in China last fall, he knew exactly what he wanted for his restaurant in the Dutch beachside town of Renesse. He just didn’t have a clue how useful they would prove.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned a whimsical idea into perhaps a window into a dystopian future where a human touch may make people cringe with fear, and a waiter clearing the table sends a customer tense with stress — only to be relieved by a soothing brush with plastic.

“They came in just ahead of that time,” said Hu’s daughter Leah, who also works at the restaurant, the Royal Palace.

Now, his two shiny white-and-red robots glide across the dining area’s floor where, once the restaurant reopens, they will be serving Chinese and Indonesian specialties like Babi Pangang and Char Siu at 15.5 euros ($17) each.

“Hello and welcome” the robots say — in a voice best described as pre-programmed.

Their duties will include greeting customers, serving drinks and dishes and returning used glasses and crockery. It’s unclear whether diners will be expected to tip.

One thing the robots will certainly do is see that social distancing rules are respected. “We will use them to make sure the 1.5 meters (5 feet) we need during the corona crisis sticks,” Leah Hu said.