That future in which robots whirl around restaurants flawlessly memorizing orders and grilling steaks to exactly medium-rare has hit a snag in China — it turns out the robots are idiots. Heweilai, a chain in Guangzhou, made the sad discovery only after going out like gangbusters and automating the waitstaff at three locations. The owner had hoped to get more customers in the door, but quickly realized even $7,000, top-of-the-line robot workers are dumber and less competent than popular culture would have you believe. China’s Workers’ Daily says two of the chain’s restaurants shut down entirely, and a third stayed afloat only after replacing the robots with real people.
According to the paper, the bots were prone to breakdowns, and human employees gleefully catalogued their new co-workers’ miserable failures at even basic tasks. “Their skills are somewhat limited,” one waiter said, referring to, among other shortcomings, the robot servers’ inability to converse with customers, carry out soup, or pour a glass of water. It sounds like the chain’s owner was more enamored with the robots’ entertainment value than becoming a pawn in the robot uprising envisioned by Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder, who wants his chain’s 3,000 locations staffed entirely by computers because he says they’re supposedly “always polite,” “always upsell,” “never take a vacation,” and “never show up late.” Maybe he’ll take a real-world lesson from Heweilai, which also sums up the move as a costly way of learning robots “definitely can’t reduce the need for human labor.”