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Robot waiter minimizes human contact at Portland-area bistro

At Bistro Royale in Beaverton, you can thank Milo for bringing and taking away your food by pushing his buttons.

Most servers wouldn’t like that, but Milo is different — some might call him “futuristic.”

The restaurant, 12655 S.W. First St. in Beaverton, uses autonomous robots like Milo to limit contact between staff and customers.

People have reacted favorably to Milo, said Kalvin Myint, who is a co-owner of Bistro Royale. The restaurant began using the robot last August.

“I love to actually play with all these new technologies,” said Myint. “So, when we were looking for a solution, in terms of providing a safer dining experience, my tendency is actually to lean towards technology and see what’s available out there.”

Myint and his wife, Poe, first opened Bistro Royale in March of last year. The couple also owns Top Burmese, located on Northwest 21st Avenue in Portland.

When the coronavirus pandemic began last spring, Myint and his wife decided to open their new Beaverton location despite the restrictions on dining due to the virus. The couple then divided their staff between the two locations to minimize layoffs.

“It was challenging, no doubt about it, but at the same time, it was also exciting in a way,” Myint said of opening a restaurant during a pandemic. “We love problem-solving, and it gives you a sort of motivation or push to try harder.

“We have to keep evolving and changing and coming up with new things to sort of forge ahead of everybody.”

It wasn’t new for Kalvin and Poe to only provide take-out for their customers.

The restaurant owners previously had a virtual restaurant on Northwest 16th Avenue in Portland, where they provided food to go. Myint thinks that experience helped them as they got their start in Beaverton during COVID-19.

When asked what attracted them to open their second location on First Street, Myint said, “I came across a city of Beaverton newsletter, and they were inviting restaurants over to the downtown area, and it got me interested. So, we found something right here in our hometown, so why were we looking anywhere else? It turned out to be a pretty good decision.”

The restaurant is in the heart of downtown Beaverton, but with clever decor, it transports patrons to a tropical forest packed with green plants and ambient lighting throughout the inside of the location.

The robots — Milo, Navi and the Beast — also teleport customers to a future built on efficiency and limited contact.

Bistro Royale uses mapping software to tell the robots where to go throughout the restaurant. Once the software is set up, the robots use markers on the ceiling to navigate between tables and provide take-out orders for customers or to-go drivers. They also have motion detection cameras to weave between people.

Myint is so interested in the potential of robots in the food service industry that he has his own restaurant robotic company, called Bottica Inc. The business also serves retailers, hotels and hospitals, he said.

Despite his love for the machines, Myint wants to be clear that he does not think they can — or should — fully replace human servers.

“In the robotic industry, there’s a lot of worry about robots taking jobs away,” he explained. “They’re like a cellphone, right? You have your cellphone as a tool. So, we’re using them as a tool to sort of amplify what they do best.”

Myint said his employees have loved having the robots around, and that they have learned “super-valuable knowledge as the future moves forward with this technology.”

For people in Asian countries, robots at restaurants may not be new, but Myint says his customers are usually surprised to see Milo moving from table to table.

“He’s a celebrity,” Myint said with a chuckle. “We have families just come here for Milo. I guess he’s getting more popular than the restaurant.”

As for the restaurant’s cuisine, it’s focused on food from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, a Southeast Asian nation that borders with countries such as India, China and Thailand.

Recently, the country has experienced political unrest. Earlier this year, a military coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has been detained in her house in the capital since the coup, according to CNN.

The country has since seen over two weeks of anti-military protests, with demonstrations held in Mandalay and Yangon.

Military leaders have imposed an internet curfew as the unrest continues.

Myint, who was born in Burma, remembers experiencing a previous coup while living in the country in the late 1980s.

“Seeing that all again, it’s a sad scenario in a way where demonstrations and protests are happening,” recalled Myint. “I’m not in favor of any political party in Burma, but at a basic level, everybody should have the freedom to vote and basic human rights, such as freedom of expression.”

The restaurant owner says he’s optimistic about Myanmar’s future and the resiliency of its people.

“In the long run, the good faith, the culture, the food and everything is going to prevail,” he added. “You can’t have the darkness forever.”

River, a server at Bistro Royale in Beaverton, demonstrates how the restaurants robot carries food to a table. (Portland Tribune)