Automation has been in a slow burn of permeating every industry and occupation on the planet. From automobiles to customer service, computers and machines have become commonplace as the backbone of modern companies. The hospitality industry has dodged the preverbal bullet for the most part.
Last year, Royal Caribbean launched the first full-service bar manned by robots on their Quantum of the Seas cruise ship. It’s a regular bar serving custom adult beverages mixed by mechanical arms.
Customers place their orders via tablets located around the bar, watch the robots draw spirits from a grid of bottles and shake, muddle and stir the drinks before sending them to the proper seat at the bar down a conveyor belt.
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Aside from the novelty, why would this be a good idea for the hospitality industry?
Somewhere around 25 percent of the inventory in any given bar is stolen. By giving away drinks, overpouring cocktails, breaking bottles and employees actually taking the bottles home, almost a third of the product in a bar never gets purchased. Robots reduce the possibility for loss to nearly zero. Minus the occasional programming misfire.
Anyone would agree that capitalizing on a large percentage of waste can improve the value of a business. Inventory control is one of the biggest selling points for robot bartenders that our beach bars could really benefit from.
Despite the low hourly wage, bartenders do add to labor dollars that a business expense. Robot bartenders are a one-time fee plus maintenance. It is a near certainty that a human should be present in the event of computer malfunction, but the amount of labor would be reduced significantly.
In the same vein, if you remove the drama that the bar staff brings to the table for owners and managers, it is very attractive. No more late excuses, calling out sick on July 4th, sleeping with each other, arguing about tips and a plethora of other reasons that make bartenders difficult to manage. You simply turn them on and they work as long as you need them.
Makr Shakr is the Italian-based company that launched The Bionic Bar for Royal Caribbean. They downplay that their robots should replace humans and approach their invention as more for entertaining and engaging customers. They agree in the novelty aspect of the idea.
We love new concepts in Myrtle Beach. We are an attraction-based market. What bigger industry to build an attraction around than the bar business? A robotic bar would be the hit of town for at least a season or two. Drawing tourists and locals in for at least one drink from the machines. It has the potential to be a huge moneymaker.
Given all the pros for such a concept to exist, there is a strong argument for why this will never work for our local watering holes.
As I have talked about before, locals love a good hookup. Free drinks or cheap drinks are good ways to get people in the door. As is overpouring cocktails and wine. Robots remove the hookup factor from a bar scene. While that makes more money, it is not why a majority of people choose one bar over the next. As much as I disagree with the idea, people go to bars for the hookup. When every drink has exactly 11/2 ounces of liquor in it, some might scoff that they are not taken care of at that bar.
In our market of over-indulgence, it would be increasingly difficult to notice when a customer has had enough to drink if there is no human interaction. Bartenders are trained to spot problems before there are problems. If you take that out of the equation, there may be some legal ramifications should someone make poor decisions after leaving your bar after being over served.
The biggest reason that this concept, while still interesting, would fail in Myrtle Beach is the hang out factor. The robot bar becomes more of an ordering counter instead of a place to hang out. There is a specific number of spots where you order and receive drinks. That space can not be occupied by one customer for the duration of their stay.
Every bar in Myrtle Beach has a personality. A certain charm. That is due to people mingling at the bar. A robotic bar would be a sterile environment with no one staying more than a few minutes.
It seems that bartenders can relax for the time being in their job security. However, the ball has just begun to roll. Being launched in the last three years, there are a lot of adjustments and considerations headed our way with The Bionic Bar concept.
I see them as a great bartender assistant if you have the extra real estate in the bar. Keeping the warm human interaction for ordering, chatting and paying the tab, while using the robot’s biggest asset of inventory control to your advantage. It may seem like double duty, but one that should pay for itself over the course of a year.
Financial and development backing from both Coca-Cola and Bacardi has made Makr Shakr a viable company in the food and beverage industry. One that will continue to develop applications for the technology. Once perfected, it would not be impossible to see robot sushi chefs, line cooks and even servers in our restaurants.
The question remains: who will be the first to open a Bionic Bar in Myrtle Beach?