There are some big-city foodie types who might sniff that little Delaware isn’t often on the cutting edge of national dining trends. But the First State can boast that it recently became home to the only restaurant of its kind in the entire country.
Now, six weeks after opening, Robot Captain Crabs in Newark’s Red Mill Plaza continues to attract droves of customers, who don’t seem to mind that some of the staff there to greet them are quite inhuman. That’s because Robot Captain Crabs employs – you guessed it – five robots to roam the restaurant floor, supporting their traditional waitstaff colleagues by ferrying about dishes and escorting diners to their seats.
At $20,000 a piece for these culinary R2D2s, the considerable investment at first seemed questionable. As crowds rushed in the doors at 8 PM on a Tuesday night, their worth became apparent – the restaurant was full, with a crowd waiting to be seated. General Manager John Soysal said “usually on the weekends, the wait at the door is anywhere from forty minutes to an hour and a half.”
The five Robots – Dexter, Alvin, Callie, Shirley and Sheldon, are divided into food running or hostess positions. After checking in with a human hostess, the robot hostesses guide diners to their tables by following sensors placed on the ceiling. Food runner robots have three shelves and run orders to your table.
Owner Guang Chen beamed when asked if the investment was worth it. “ABC, NBC, CBS – they have all been here and customers keep coming,” he said. He also runs the popular Hibachi restaurant in People’s Plaza.
Importantly, the robots are not taking jobs from human workers. “We still have a hostess as the door who greets you and punches in the table number, where the robot then takes you. We still have servers who take orders,” said Soysal. And because the robots can only perform their current duties, reducing staff is not in the future.
The decor is unassuming, including curiously placed coastal touches and artifacts of restaurants past. The restaurant is overall very casual and family friendly, especially the incredibly fair pricing – a seafood dinner for four with drinks and sides runs about $80, including lobster tail, a pound of shrimp, and two po’ boys.
The pound of boiled shrimp with corn and potatoes just $15; with half pound portions offered for less than $10 at lunch from 12-3 PM. Seafood Boils are delivered in tied plastic bags and the gumbo is served in a covered to go container, to prevent spilling as the robots roll around.
The seafood heavy menu is much like Chen’s sister restaurant, but why the Cajun flare? According to Soysal, the owner used to be a chef in Louisiana until he retired. He taught the current staff everything, including the signature sauces. Chen is also from China where robot servers are much more prevalent. While dining in Shanghai, he had the idea to bring them to the states.
Chen says his robots are more advanced than the ones he saw in Shanghai because his glide easily across the floor guided by hundreds of sensors that are taped to the restaurant’s ceiling. They also don’t bump into each other on their trips to tables, which is a good thing considering your meal’s on one of those shelves.
The menu also includes fried shrimp, oysters, soups, a wide variety of seafood boils and chicken fingers for kids.The fried catfish po’ boy was crisp, fresh and flavorful. Sweet potato fries wowed over the Cajun fries – both are great for dipping in the house made sauces. You can pick your sauce and spice levels as part of the boil deals. Sauces include Cajun, garlic butter, lemon pepper and the house special, which is all 3 combined.
Customers are really enjoying the robot servers. “They really like it – it is very unique. They take pictures with the robots – they are very interested” said Soysal. You can choose not to use the robots, but everyone has chosen to use them, “they want to see what they can do,” added Soysal.