Seriously, Do We Need A Robot in the Wine World?

Meet George Jetson; His boy Elroy; Daughter Judy…. Jane is wife. Completing the members of the Jetson’s household was their dog Astro and Rosie the Robot. The Jetsons treated her like one of the family, not the older version robot that she was.  The Jetsons was one of my favorite shows growing up. It was wonderful to dream about a day where everyone would be driving cars like an airplane. You could port to a different place easily and great tasting food came out of a machine with a push of a button.

But then I grew up and although convenience is truly a wonderful thing, I think at some point we have gone a little overboard. Our society has become complacent with doing as little as possible to get by. We no longer write down a shopping list, we just ask Alexa to add an item to our cart and the next day, Amazon Prime delivers it to your door. We use to have to get up to turn the television on or to change the channels. Then came the remote control. Now you just talk to your tv. You literally don’t need to lift a finger anymore. (and then people wonder why obesity is a concern in our society today)

In case you haven’t realized it by now, this post is a rant! I recently hosted a podcast episode that about an article written by Elin McCoy about trends to keep an eye out for as we slowly crawl out from under this pandemic. Many of the topics were understandable, like sustainability being a big buzz word, streaming live experiences with winemakers, and Rosé sticking around for a long time. 

One of the trends, got to me though. It truly made me irate. With all that has happened in the world, the concept of having a robot sommelier, put me over the edge. The Tipsy Robot located in The Miracle Mile in Las Vegas has had robots (technically just an arm) dolling out mixed drinks for about four years now. I have always thought this was a crazy concept. First, to me, the point of going to a bar as always been the social aspect of it. Second, if I order a drink I would like it made before the next day. (Watch video of robot in action) I get that it has a “cool factor” but I never understood why someone would want to pay the outrageous price to have an mechanical arm pour your drink, when a human can do it faster and have a conversation with you. But maybe that’s just me. 

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The article read: “The Rise of the Champagne Robot Sommelier”

With restaurants closing and the Court of Master Sommeliers organization rocked by #MeToo scandals, the somm community had a bad year in 2020.

And now, robots. In cooperation with Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon, two M group restaurants in London unleased Baily and Sage, which ferry bottles and glasses of bubbly to customers. Hotel Trio in Healdsburg, CA, sends out Rosé the Robot butler to deliver service wines. 

During the pandemic, the hospitality industry was hit the hardest. With the limitations on restaurants’ abilities to open, sommeliers found themselves out of work. In an article in Wine Enthusiasts published in November, 2020, stated,

Off-screen, a very different reality faces the U.S. sommelier community. It’s been more than seven months since hospitality businesses initially shuttered due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. While many restaurants have since reopened, thousands of wine professionals remain out of work. They do not expect to return to their pre-pandemic positions any time soon.

After the podcast ended, (you can listen here) I had to vent, so to the keyboard I went. What I learned was that these robots are not replacing sommeliers at all. In the articles I have read, I did not see any robot that a customer could talk to and ask for a recommendation. Instead they are just simply serving the customers. So I calmed down. 

But then I got annoyed all over…. for a completely different reason. Meet Marion. This is M Threadneedle’s wine robot. I have to admit, “she” is kind of cool looking. The article states that you place your order on the tablet built into her chest.  (I wonder how long before someone complains about sexual harassment of the robot. 🙂 ) With technology similar to one of those robotic vacuums, she is able to avoid people, tables and walls. She retrieves the order and delivers it to you, sometimes with an off the cheek joke. 

Both the M group restaurants and Hotel Trio make it very clear that both Marion and Rosé came about because of covid-19. They brought them onboard for contactless service. When a customer orders a glass of Yellow Label, Marion’s clever response is “yellow is my favourite colour.” Rosé has earned the title of social distancing ambassador. She came to “life” in 2018 as a novelty, but with the pandemic stepped up to the plate as a major league player. 

An article in the New York Times wrote:

When restaurants closed last March, she was furloughed with the expectation she’d be back at work by summer at the latest. Instead, she has been out of a job ever since. The restaurant reopened, but it could not afford to keep on managers like Ms. Emokpae.

Here’s my question to these restaurants and hotels… How much did it cost to develop, create and maintain the technology of these robots? Wouldn’t that money be better served bringing back your well trained staff that can actually interact with your customers? Someone who can listen to them and make suggestions as to what they may like, rather than forcing them to push buttons on a robotic chest? 

So, this is where we stand semi-post pandemic. Highly trained people, who have dedicated their lives to wine are finding themselves not able to return to what they love while hotels and restaurants are replacing them with robots. The service industry is all about hospitality. How is receiving your wine from a robot hospitable?

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you want to see more robots or more sommeliers? 

~Sláinte! 

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4 thoughts on “Seriously, Do We Need A Robot in the Wine World?”

  1. I laughed out loud at the robot sexual harassment charges, but honestly, it will probably eventually happen. I am not a fan of this robotic service, but I am also of a certain age and my fear is that the younger generations will love it.

    It makes me think of the movie Her, which I think is not far fetched. Humans do develop feelings and attachment to nonhuman things that provide any degree of interaction or comfort. I think eventually these robots will be so humanlike that we interact with them on an almost human level which is absolutely terrifying to me.

    1. oh yes, HER, I remember that movie. I’m glad I got a laugh out of you, but you are right, it probably will eventually happen. I really do fear that they will take over the humanity side of what makes the wine world so wonderful

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