- Tanbo R-1 and Tanbo R-2, Two Panda Deli
- first first
- United States (Pasadena)
Owned by Shayne Hayashi, the Two Panda Deli in Pasadena, California, USA, became the first restaurant to “employ” robot waiting staff when it opened in 1983. The fast-food outlet used robots – named Tanbo R-1 and Tanbo R-2 – to bring Chinese food to its customers. Measuring 4.5 ft in height and weighing 80 lb, Tanbo R-1 and Tanbo R-2 delivered chow mein, spare ribs and fortune cookies to tables as required – telling jokes and playing music at the same time. The Japanese-built robots each cost $20,000, but were not without their faults – sometimes dropping food when radio interference confused their signals. They were popular with customers, however, and proved to be a major draw to the restaurant.
The Miami News on 10 June 1983 reported: “The pair at the Two Panda Deli, a fast-food Chinese eatery in Pasadena, tend to blur their words drunkenly when their 12-volt power cells run down, and they’ve been known to drop food and spin in circles when police radios operate nearby. They’re programmed to be nice to customers — “Will there be anything else?” and “See you tomorrow” — in Japanese, English and Spanish. Patrons whose commands confuse the pair get the response: “That’s not my problem,” accompanied by a short blast of disco music to which the bubbleheads dance back and forth.”
Shayne Hayashi himself was quoted on the limitations of the Tanbo waiters, admitting: “when someone crosses in front of it, it stops. Some people move a chair or something or move the table, and we’re in trouble.”
While Hayashi owned exclusive rights to selling the robots in the USA, the business venture was fraught with issues. In 1986, the trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News reported that one of the restaurants Hayashi had sold a robot to – based in Modesto, California – was suffering with technical problems. "But he couldn’t take care of it," Hayashi said of the robot's new owner. "All the time I had to drive out there and fix it.” Ultimately he ended up buying back the robot after it was considered unsuitable for the job – making the Modesto eatery the first restaurant to dismiss robot waiting staff.
Thirty years later, in China, robots were still being fired from restaurants. the In spring 2016, three restaurants in Guangzhou had to dismiss robot staff owing to complaints from customers and human waiters regarding the robots' poor service.