SEOUL (Reuters) – Robo-bartenders are shaking up South Korea’s cafe and bar culture as the country transitions from intensive social distancing to what the government calls “distancing in daily life”.
One robot makes cocktails from 25 bottles hanging upside-down from the ceiling, another carves perfect ice balls in the fraction of the time it takes a human with a knife and an ice pick.
And they look snazzy doing it too.
In a tailored vest and bow tie, six-foot-tall Cabo narrates his actions as he carves ice for a whisky on the rocks behind the bar at Coffee Bar K in Seoul.
“Do you see this? A beautiful ice ball has been made. Enjoy some cold whisky,” he says in Korean.
Cabo made his debut in 2017, but his presence is particularly reassuring now as the bar looks to encourage customers to return to entertainment facilities after the coronavirus outbreak.
“Since this space is usually filled with people, customers tend to feel very anxious,” said Choi Won-woo, a human bartender who assembles the drinks. “I think they would feel safer if the robot makes and serves the ice rather than if we were to do it ourselves.”
At the Cafe Bot Bot Bot coffee bar, where the robot arm shakes up mojitos and other cocktails, manager Kim Tae-wan also pointed out that the ‘drink bot’ can provide a consistent quality to their mixes that human bartenders can’t.
Customers seemed encouraged by the safety the robots provided, though one pointed out a critical quality the robo-bartenders lacked.
“It’s a little disappointing that you can’t talk to the bartenders,” said 21-year-old university student Moon Seong-eun.
“One of the good things about going to a bar to drink is that you can chat to them about the drinks or about my worries.”
(Reporting by Hyunyoung Yi, Minwoo Park, Daewoung Kim, Writing by Minwoo Park and Karishma Singh, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)