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A Chinese restaurant chain in the north west of England has been forced to make use of robotic waiters, after struggling for staff during the Covid pandemic.

Directors at The Chinese Buffet unleashed one BellaBot in each of four restaurants in Liverpool, St Helens, Bolton and Wigan, to serve food to diners. 

When the buffet re-opened after the last lockdown, its owners decided to serve food to people at the table, ordered via an app, rather than allow them to serve themselves.

This added an extra strain on the already short waiting staff, according to owners Paolo Hu and Peter Wu, who said the BellaBots had already proved popular with diners.

The guide price for the friendly-faced robots is $20,000 (£14,500), which is less than the cost of employing a waiter at minimum wage for 40 hours per week. 

Quirky footage shows Bella, who features a wide-eyed feline face, sweeping across the restaurant floor dishing out delicacies to delighted customers. 

A Chinese restaurant chain in the north west of England has been forced to make use of robotic waiters, after struggling for staff during the Covid pandemic

A Chinese restaurant chain in the north west of England has been forced to make use of robotic waiters, after struggling for staff during the Covid pandemic

Fung laing, Kamilla Waluck, Joseph Telford, with owner Paolo Hu and restaurant manager Yuki Lee) pose with BellaBot, brought in due to Covid staff shortages

Fung laing, Kamilla Waluck, Joseph Telford, with owner Paolo Hu and restaurant manager Yuki Lee) pose with BellaBot, brought in due to Covid staff shortages

HOW THE BELLABOT WORKS 

Customers place an order for food using the app, which goes to the kitchen staff.

They then place the food on one of four shelves on the BellaBot.

It goes to a table and lights up the shelf that has their food on it.

Bella then says to the diners, for example: ‘Table 52 please take plates from the shelf with the blue light’.

It is able to move on to up to three other tables in a single outing from the kitchen, repeating the process.

In an average week during trials, BellaBot covered 67 miles.

The robot can talk to diners and even sing Happy Birthday when required.

It costs an estimated £14,500 for a single BellaBot, which is less than full time minimum wage for a human employee. 

The restaurant, like many others around the world, has battled with low staff numbers since reopening after the pandemic, made worse by employees having to isolate due to the Omicron variant of Covid.

It meant that as more things opened up and got busier, the restaurant struggled to find enough servers to keep up with demand.

The Chinese Buffet spokesman David Ramsden said the BellaBot has proved to be a novel solution to the ongoing staffing problem.

He said that ‘customers love it,’ adding ‘we have people doing TikToks, others saying the children loved the robot.

‘It’s quirky and really interesting. It’ll attract people to come to the restaurant to see the robot serving. It’s a good pull for people into restaurants.’

Families come in specifically to see Bella, and when it is someone’s birthday, the robot can join human staff at the table to sing Happy Birthday to the diners, the owners said.

‘During the covid pandemic, the buffets were closed even when restaurants were open because people needed to remain seated,’ Mr Ramsden explained.

‘Rather than being a [traditional] buffet, it became a table-service buffet. You order via the app and it was delivered directly to your table.’

This put more pressure on the waiting staff, as previously customers would go up and collect their own food, requiring fewer waiters.  

Directors at The Chinese Buffet unveiled one BellaBot in each of four restaurants in Liverpool, St Helens, Bolton and Wigan, to serve food to diners in place of humans

Directors at The Chinese Buffet unveiled one BellaBot in each of four restaurants in Liverpool, St Helens, Bolton and Wigan, to serve food to diners in place of humans

When the buffet re-opened after the last lockdown, the restaurant chain decided to serve food to people at the table, ordered via an app, rather than allow them to serve themselves

When the buffet re-opened after the last lockdown, the restaurant chain decided to serve food to people at the table, ordered via an app, rather than allow them to serve themselves

In their testing stages, staff at The Chinese Buffet found that Bella covers 67 miles per week on average, while moving around the restaurant. 

Bella has four shelves meaning she can serve four tables at once and even talk to diners in the process.

Customers place their order using The Chinese Buffet app, and the food arrives on Bella’s shelves at the table – coming out ‘tapas style’.

‘You order a number of dishes and it’s an unlimited dining experience. You order in lots of three, then you can order again and again,’ explained Mr Ramsden.

‘The order goes to the kitchen via the app. Prior to robots, the order would be put together and the waiting staff would take it to the table.

In their testing stages, staff at The Chinese Buffet found that Bella covers 67 miles per week on average, while moving around the restaurant

In their testing stages, staff at The Chinese Buffet found that Bella covers 67 miles per week on average, while moving around the restaurant

Bella has four shelves meaning she can serve four tables at once and even talk to diners in the process

Customers place their order using the Chinese Buffet app, and the food arrives on Bella's shelves at the table - coming out 'tapas style'

Bella has four shelves meaning she can serve four tables at once and even talk to diners in the process

ROBOT MASSAGE TABLE SHOWN AT CES 

Massage and comfort played a big part in the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), including the launch of a fully automated massage table. 

Unveiled by Massage Robotics, the full body massage robot was designed to be placed in a massage salon and help those resistant to a human masseuse.  

The startup built the robot with two arms, covering a seven square foot area to understand verbal commands. 

It has a neural network that allows it to exchange data in real time and respond to the needs and demands of the user.

The robots arms can operate in 6-axis and work together to create an ideal massage routine for the person on the table, drawing from a database. 

It can control location, duration, path, speed and force based on the needs, including removing knots from the back. 

Users will also be able to share their favourite routines, and select the ones they want to use from a library on a smartphone. 

It does come with a hefty price tag, as it is aimed at the commercial, rather than home market, with a base model costing $310,000 (£228,000). 

‘Now, there are four shelves on Bella. You can programme it so she goes to table 57, table 43. A different order is on different shelves.

‘When she gets to the table, she says ‘table 52, please take your food from the shelf with the blue light’. The shelf lights up to show which is your food.’

He said that while the robots are serving tables, it frees up staff time to interact with the customers and address their ’emotional issues’.

This includes complaints, or additional needs, including dietary requirements. 

‘I was in Wigan on Sunday evening talking to the managers there and they wouldn’t do without them now,’ Mr Ramsden said, adding ‘they were skeptical to start with but since they’ve had them, they make a massive difference.

‘When I talk to people, there are two challenges. People say they don’t want to be served by robots, they want to be served by people.

‘Of course, we all do, but just because the robots are there it doesn’t mean the humans aren’t. It eases pressure on the staff and they can stay on the restaurant floor and interact with the customers.’ 

‘In trials, the robot did 67 miles a week,’ he said, adding ‘that’s 67 miles that staff would be walking’ if the robot wasn’t in the restaurant.

‘It’s primarily to solve the staffing crisis but that’s the catalyst for it. It was a short-term solution for the staffing crisis but the reality is, it’s making such a difference to the restaurant,’ said Mr Ramsden.

‘If you go to Tesco now, you get the zapper and go to the automatic check out. This AI and robotics is coming.

‘It’s really timely and a good short-term solution to the staffing problem now, but it will become much more commonplace.

‘They are Chinese manufactured and they’re being used to some degree in Germany, Holland and Spain at the moment, and even in Slovenia, but nobody had actually brought them over here to the UK [before we launched them in November].

‘We’re now importing the robots and providing them to anybody that needs them – with hospitality being the initial target market.’

Could a robot take YOUR job? Waiters, shelf fillers and retail assistants are most likely to be replaced with automated systems – but doctors and teachers are safe for now 

Waiters, shelf stackers and people working in retail are the most likely to be replaced by automated systems in the future, according to new research into AI employment.

The study, funded by trade electrical suppliers ElectricalDirect, found that while manual and repetitive tasks were easy to replace with robots, doctors and teachers were safe ‘for now’.

The jobs most at risk from automation, according to the study, are waiters, shelf fillers, retail assistants, bar staff and farm workers.

The researchers found an obvious geographical trend as well, with the north, particularly Wigan, Doncaster and Sunderland at the greatest risk from robots

At the other end of the scale, with those in the most ‘secure from automation’ roles are doctors, teachers, dentists, psychologists and physiotherapists. 

The researchers found an obvious geographical trend as well, with the north, particularly Wigan, Doncaster and Sunderland at the greatest risk from robots.

The south fares significantly better, with London, Watford and Oxford the least at risk of job losses due to mass automation as AI and robotics improve. 

By analysing 20 million jobs from around the country, the team discovered that roles with repetitive and routine tasks will be the first in line for automation, with some industries, such as manufacturing, starting this process decades ago. 

The rise of AI poses an existential threat to the UK jobs market, as it starts to make a large number of jobs a thing of the past. 

It’s an inevitable and controversial change to the way our economy works, which has only been sped up by the forced automation brought on by Covid, as businesses were limited in their ability to have customer-facing roles.

The data analysed 20 million jobs, looking at the risk of automation, by analysing whether repetitive and routine tasks would be carried out quicker by an algorithm.

Therefore, jobs that tend to need less human intervention, came out at a much higher risk. Location data is based on areas where jobs require the most training, thus lowering their risk of automation. 

Waiters top the list by having a 72.81 per cent probability of being replaced by robots over the coming years, a process likely to be sped up by the recruitment crisis.

 

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Young investors have outperformed their older counterparts and professional investors since the start of the pandemic, according to a new study.

Investors aged between 18 and 24 outperformed all other age groups, enjoying a 22.8 per cent return since the start of the pandemic.

Those in the 24-34 and 35-44 year old age brackets were not far behind the youngest investors, returning 20 per cent and 19.2 per cent respectively in the two-year period. 

The data from investment platform Interactive Investor drilled into its customers’ performance by age group and compared them to the average fund. 

All three age groups beat the average customer portfolio return of 14.5 per cent over the same period and the FTSE All Share index which gained 6.7 per cent.

Older investors, aged over 65, by comparison returned 12.3 per cent over the two years and were more likely to opt for individual stocks like Glaxosmithkline and Astrazeneca.

Despite the meme stock phenomenon which sparked a new generation of investors, the research shows young investors did less share picking and focused on backing investment companies.

Interactive Investor has attributed younger investors’ success with this higher-than-average exposure to trusts – at 34 per cent on average for the age group versus an overall average of 23 per cent.

However, it may also reflect the trusts that they held, with popular names such as Scottish Mortgage scoring big returns through the pandemic. 

But while younger investors have performed well over two years, their outperformance stalled in 2021 and slipped slightly behind older investors.

Investors over the age of 65 returned 14.6 per cent in 2021, compared to 13.8 per cent for the average Interactive Investor customer and 13.1 per cent among 18-24 year olds.

Young investors have turned their back on individual stocks, instead opting for investment trusts which performed well last year

Young investors have turned their back on individual stocks, instead opting for investment trusts which performed well last year

The investment trust sector has proved to be a popular asset class for investors: data from the Association of Investment Companies shows the industry raised £14.8billion of new money last year.

The closed-ended structure has previously been overlooked by some everyday investors but it gives managers the opportunity to invest in illiquid assets like infrastructure and renewables which have proved popular in recent years.

Another benefit investors have found is that income is less lumpy than equities. 

Eleven trusts featured on the AIC’s ‘Dividend Heroes’ list for increasing their dividends for more than 40 consecutive years, including City of London Investment Trust and Alliance Trust.

AGE PERFORMANCE 
Column  24 month return 18 month return 12 month return 
18-24  22.8%  19.5%  13.1% 
25-34  20.0%  16.8%  12.9% 
35-44  19.2%  16.0%  12.7% 
45-54  16.6%  13.7%  13.1% 
55-64 14.1%  11.2% 13.4% 
65+  12.3%  8.6%  14.6% 
Source: Interactive Investor 

This is likely due to the higher exposure to equities among this age bracket: stocks made up 42.9 per cent of the portfolios of 65+ investors compared to 23.3 per cent among 18 to 24 year olds.

Interestingly, II said its average investor was not able to beat the FTSE All Share and FTSE 100 last year – which returned 18.3 per cent and 18.4 per cent respectively.

However, they still beat the professionals at their own game when compared to a multi-asset portfolio rather than one just invested in shares. The IA Mixed Investment 40-85 per cent Shares sector which was up just 11 per cent across the year.

Scottish Mortgage, Britain’s largest investment trust, was the most popular holding across all age groups.

Baillie Gifford’s flagship trust has returned 300 per cent over the past five years, while the FTSE All-Share Index has returned just 10 per cent over the same period.

However, the trust, which took early bets on Tesla and Amazon, has underperformed over the past six months and a further tech sell-off has seen its share price fall more than eight per cent since the start of the year.

While Tesla has remained a popular stock for Interactive Investor customers across all age brackets, they say individual stocks do not dominate the portfolios of 18-24 year olds.

However, this differs from data from fee-free share dealing app Freetrade, which has 1.2million UK customers, of which 27 per cent are between 18 and 25. Its investors can buy individual shares, investment trusts and ETFs.

Leading tech stocks like Apple and Amazon make up 50 per cent of the portfolios of all investors across all age groups, although younger investors seem to have adopted a ‘satellite and core approach’, with S&P tracker funds particularly popular.

Freetrade investors between 36 and 45 are the least risk averse with 60 per cent of the top buys being tech stocks, suggesting they are looking to maximise growth before shifting towards income as they approach retirement.

There were also some subtle variations between men and women’s performance, according to Interactive Investor.  Women performed slightly better than men in the past year – 13.9 per cent versus 13.7 per cent.

Since the start of the pandemic, women saw returns of 14.3 per cent just ahead of the 14.2 per cent earned by men, which the platform said could be because they had a higher exposure to investment trusts but differences in portfolios are minimal.

‘It’s encouraging to see that our customers have managed to navigate the ongoing market uncertainty since the start of the pandemic in 2020,’ said Interactive Investor boss Richard Wilson.

‘Over the 24 months of data collected, our customers have outperformed both the FTSE 100 and FTSE All Share, and our younger investors have demonstrated a particularly impressive performance, helping to pave the way for their longer-term financial security.’ 

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Checkout founder now worth £15bn as online payments company’s profits soar in the pandemic










An online payments company has become the UK’s most successful start-up after being valued at £30billion by international investors.

Based in Fitzrovia, London, Checkout raised £730million in a funding round that makes it worth more than fintech upstart Revolut, which was valued at £24billion last July.

The company was founded a decade ago and processes online payments for websites and customers including Deliveroo, fashion website The Hut Group and furniture seller Heal’s.

Fortune: Checkout is majority-owned by Swiss national Guillaume Pousaz (pictured) who at 40 years of age has a paper fortune worth £15bn

Fortune: Checkout is majority-owned by Swiss national Guillaume Pousaz (pictured) who at 40 years of age has a paper fortune worth £15bn

Checkout’s success confirms London’s position as the tech capital of Europe. But the UK has a challenge to keep it in London as the firm has previously hinted that it would list in the US.

Checkout is majority-owned by Swiss national Guillaume Pousaz who at 40 years of age has a paper fortune worth £15billion. 

He is a resident of Dubai, where his wife Laure Pousaz and three children live, but spends most nights at a five-star hotel in London.

Checkout’s £30billion valuation is more than double what it was worth a year ago. 

Those taking part in the latest round include New York investment firm Tiger Global, asset manager Franklin Templeton and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC.

Investors’ appetite for payments companies has been turbocharged by the pandemic as consumers shop online. 

Every time a user makes a transaction, Checkout takes a small fee for processing it, as well as a flat fee.

As a result, it is processing billions of dollars every year in more than 150 currencies. Checkout has 1,700 employees globally.

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