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Watch: This Restaurant in Hangzhou Has No Waiters

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Do you hate waiters? Do you want them all to disappear in 10-15 years?

That’s pretty harsh. But the folks at Wufangzhai would have exciting news for you. The century-old restaurant chain recently unveiled their new “intelligent restaurant“ in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou — and they seem pretty excited about it (and no, this isn’t a lame April Fool).

The restaurant’s dishes are still produced the old-fashioned way by humans, but pretty much every other part of the dining process happens via your phone. You browse the menu using the popular Koubei app and pay with Alipay — Alibaba’s cashless payment system — and when your selected meal has been prepared you’ll get a notification and you can click a button to pop open a personal pickup box with your food inside. You can put your order in ahead of time to pick up on your commute, and there’s even an attached side pantry dispensing hot food 24 hours a day.

So far, the concept’s been a smash success. Average dining time per customer has dropped by eight minutes, while average spend per customer is up 14.5%. To drive the point home, the store’s cut out seven on-floor staff members, saving up to 350,000RMB per year (about 56,000USD).

Jason Ding works at Koubei, the app that provides a framework for Wufangzhai’s staff-less operation. He manages the project, and told RADII that what we’re seeing is just the beginning:

The new technology on display at Wufangzhai is only a trial. Alibaba’s development on the Internet of Things is leading to greater connection between hardware and software, and integrating them into the cutting edge of new retail. It’s going to mean revolutionary breakthroughs in efficiency for businesses, better experiences for customers, and greater profits for entrepreneurs.

With all the talk of automation killing careers, it’s admittedly a little eerie to watch it happen firsthand. But you can’t stop the ever-marching feet of the future, and arcs of change will always trend toward that which is most efficient. So far, Wufangzhai has seen revenue rise and expenses fall — the future of dining might very well see the disappearance of waiters.

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip-hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers.

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