Originally published on Sept. 24, 2021By Pafoua Yang

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The workforce shortage continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the hospitality industry. The industry is still down nearly 40,000 employees in Minnesota. To address tight staffing issues, Sawatdee Thai Restaurant got creative.

The restaurant, which has five locations including Minneapolis, got a robot named DeeDee assist servers. DeeDee carries food, drinks and dirty dishes between the kitchen and dining tables.

The restaurant said the robot is designed to “automate repetitive manual work which allows the restaurant staff to focus on outstanding customer service.” It is created by a robotics and artificial intelligence company in California.

“It’s been really hard right now to get people at all. In any positions at all my restaurants,” said Harrison.

Harrison explained DeeDee is not meant to replace staff, only to assist them. Servers are still meeting visitors at the tables, they just don’t have to take multiple trips anymore.

Credit: Sawatdee Thai Restaurants

While the extra help is coming from a robot, Harrison said it doesn’t take away from the human experience. Instead it does just the opposite.

“We want it to enhance the human interaction. They have more time to spend with you because they’re not back in the ktichen anymore,” said Harrison.

Though Cyndy said DeeDee is Minnesota’s first robot server, Liz Rammer with Hospitality Minnesota said it’s not a new idea.

“Some places are looking at robotics as a potential solution also in the back of the house. Maybe for some repetitive things like chopping and things like that that a robotics can bring to the table,” said Rammer.

Rammer added that to adjust to staffing shortages, many restaurants are limiting hours and days. Even with a helper like DeeDee Cyndy told WCCO it’s still not enough.

“We are hiring at all my locations. Please apply,” said Cyndy.

Sawatdee has a second robot server at its Maple Grove location.

Pafoua Yang