York’s first robot restaurant in doubt – after it is refused a licence

25 Jan 2021 @ 7.16 pm
| Food & drink

Robot waiters may not be serving customers at a Chinese restaurant in York any time soon – as councillors refused to grant a licence for the venue.

The owner of Haizhonglao Hot Pot and BBQ Restaurant at 12 George Hudson Street was hoping to open what he claims would be the country’s first contactless restaurant run by smart robots.

Conveyor belts would also carry dishes around part of the restaurant, from which customers could choose to serve themselves.

Drinks orders would be taken by a human being, who can check customers’ age if they want to buy alcohol, with food served by robots.

But North Yorkshire Police opposed the application and it was turned down by City of York Council’s licensing panel.

A statement from the restaurant said it would be “a contactless restaurant run by robot waiters to reduce the human-to-human contact due to the virus transmission risk”.

“As the virus pandemic continues to rage, we have introduced a robot-run restaurant that helps the business to run smoother, safer eating and better in operation.”

Police objections

But police said the applicant, Man Wai Leung, was working as the general manager at the Regency restaurant in Barbican Road.

He was present on two occasions when people were removed from the restaurant by immigration officers, as well as failing to produce evidence that the venue was following its licensing conditions.

Sgt Jackie Booth said: “The question is, is Mr Leung going to have any control of these premises? Is he going to be able to promote the licencing objectives?

“Is he going to be able to ensure that premises licence conditions are adhered to and enforced?

“From a police perspective, we feel that his track record has demonstrated that he has not adhered to premises licence conditions. We would ask that the application is refused.”

Duncan Craig, representing Mr Leung, said drink orders made at the restaurant will be taken by a human being: “Food and food only will be served by robots. I haven’t seen these robots.

“But any reduction in human contact is to be welcomed at the moment.”

Another view

Mr Craig said Mr Leung “simply worked as a manager” while at The Regency and was not involved with staff recruitment.

He said: “That was the limit of his involvement in those premises. He wants to run his own business and he’s not going to get another opportunity again. He doesn’t want any involvement from outside business.

“I don’t think it’s right that he’s punished for the fact that he worked somewhere. He’s a man of good character.”

The committee refused the application.

The meeting heard food could still be served at the venue as serving food is not a licensable activity.