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A space age helper

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Gaga the robot server at Gaga & Hoo Korean Restaurant delivers a plate of mandu Korean dumplings to the dining room.

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The owners of a local restaurant have found an innovative way to deal with the labor shortage plaguing the service industry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gaga & Hoo Korean Restaurant owners Byeong-Wahn Won and Hae-Young Park, introduced a new robot server to their dining room earlier this week. The robot, which introduces itself as “Gaga, your robot server,” glides effortlessly across the restaurant to deliver meals from the kitchen and return dirty dishes to the dishwasher.

Robot servers are actually pretty common at restaurants in bigger cities, they said, adding that they believe Gaga & Hoo’s robot is the first in the Fort Dodge area.

Park actually got the idea when visiting Seoul, South Korea, recently. She said most restaurants there have a robot server helping out.

“It’s been very useful,” Won said. “I think many restaurants would find it helpful.”

Having the robot server allows their staff to be able to focus on the needs of more customers rather than having to rush orders back and forth from the kitchen. It’s also useful in delivering menu items that are served on hot plates and heavy dishes, which can be dangerous for a person to carry. But, most importantly, the robot server accomplishes exactly what Won and Park wanted — it fills in the gaps in service when there aren’t enough staff working because of the worker shortage.

“Every owner has the same problem,” Won said. “It’s hard to find servers and kitchen staff. After [the coronavirus], everyone has the same problem.”

The robot has state-of-the-art safety features that help it safely navigate the dining room and avoid bumping into people or furniture. It has the restaurant’s floor plan programmed into its computer so it knows which table to deliver to. It also sings — a patron on Wednesday night was serenaded with the “Happy Birthday” song.

Other features of the robot is that it can work long hours, never complains and never asks for a raise, Won joked.

Since the robot’s debut at Gaga & Hoo on Monday, many customers have come in to check it out, Park said.

“They’ve been very curious,” she said.

With Gaga & Hoo being the only Korean restaurant in the area, Won estimates about half of their customers come from an hour or more away to have a different culinary experience. And now, the restaurant’s new unique staff member might draw in more traffic.

The robot server comes from a tech company in San Francisco, California, Won said. The company sends regular software updates to improve and expand the device’s capabilities.

“Maybe someday she can dance,” Won joked.

Won and Park opened Gaga & Hoo at 368 Country Club Drive in 2018.

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