Japan burger chain lets staff work remotely with robots

The OriHime Porter robot brings food to customers on trays, avoiding face-to-face interaction between customers and employees. (Photo by Kenta Ando)

KENTA ANDO, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO — Fans of Japan’s Mos Burger now can order a meal and have it brought to their table without interacting face-to-face with an employee. But there is more to this month’s robotic initiative than meets the eye.

The operator of the robot is not inside the burger shop at the parent company’s Tokyo headquarters, or even nearby. In July, the company tested remote service run by a person living hundreds of kilometers away in northern Japan’s Akita Prefecture. The operator suffers from a debilitating disease. 

Though the pilot program runs only until the end of August, Tokyo-listed Mos Food Services will evaluate the results as one possible solution to an anticipated staff shortage when the pandemic-hit economy reopens.

The OriHime Porter service robot, which features shelves for holding trays, wheels food from the kitchen to table. Customers also can interact with the operators of the robot, introduced in cooperation with local company Ory Laboratory.

In mythology, Orihime is also the name of a star-crossed weaver girl separated from her cowherd lover by the Milky Way.

The robot is not Mos Burger’s first experiment with remote service. Employees working remotely can provide direct assistance to customers through a special self-checkout system that debuted in November 2020 at the Tokyo headquarters shop. This system itself is an upgrade of a pilot launched in July 2020 that lets customers chat with remote staff when placing an order.

The OriHime Porter runs between 2 and 5 p.m. on weekdays through the end of August at the store inside the building that houses the company’s head office in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward.

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