Robot waiters: Delaware County senior home turns to technology to serve meals

Wesley Enhanced Living Main Line, in Media, uses 'Matradee' food service bots during worker shortage

MEDIA (KYW Newsradio) — A nationwide restaurant worker shortage isn’t stopping the dining operation at a Delaware County senior living community from running smoothly.

Robots have joined the wait staff.

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"Table 17, your order has arrived. Please pick it up from tier 1. Please enjoy your meal," a pre-programmed female voice utters from one of two robots at Wesley Enhanced Living Main Line in Media.

"Excuse me. Thank you. Please let me pass," are some of the robots' other vocabulary phrases.

The robots, 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide, deliver meals from the kitchen to the tables in the dining room. One has a female voice, while the other has a male voice.

"I call them Robbie, Robbie the Robots," said resident Martha Roth (pictured above), who described how she enjoys the excellent service and great atmosphere they provide.

“When we come to the dining room and see them, it’s just a whole lot of fun," Roth added.

"It’s fun. It’s a great diversion.“

A human server takes the food from the robots' three built-in shelves and puts them on the table, and then places dirty dishes on the robots' shelves to bring back to the kitchen. They dish out 130 dinners each night.

"We were obviously up against some troubled times with staffing issues, and we weren’t able to get a flow of people coming through the door," said WEL Director of Culinary Nutrition Shawn Fontaine.

"I looked out to try and find something that could help us, so I stumbled across Richtech Robotics and the Matradees."

Fontaine said the programming possibilities can go numerous ways.

“You can do three different tables at once, so you can do different tiers if you want. I can send an appetizer, an entre and some salads out. It will go to the table that was posted there first, and once it is done there, the server hits 'continue to next task' and it will continue to table hop," said Fontaine.

“It takes the place of four food runners, or four sets of hands.”

The robots are equipped with infrared technology and will stop or find a way around an obstacle in their path. They even take dirty dishes to the kitchen.

“It’s another positive," said WEL Executive Director Mike DeStefon.

"Less hands touching items, the better off you are. Obviously, we take a lot of effort to make sure we are not doing anything that is an infection risk. As with anything else, the more you can make touchless, the better off you are. Not even just from COVID, but from any bacteria or viral infection.”

DeStefon said the residents aren't alone in enjoying the robots.

“The staff is pretty happy about it too because it’s an extra set of hands. In fact, based on how these things work, it’s an extra few sets of hands.” DeStefon added.

The robots can even be programmed to sing "Happy Birthday."

For the moment, despite Roth's efforts, the robots are nameless. WEL hopes to hold a naming contest very soon.

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