A restaurant run by robots wants to open in York – but the police object

The sign in the window of the planned HaiZhong Lao Hot Pot & BBQ restaurant on George Hudson Street, York. Photographs: YorkMix
9 Nov 2020 @ 6.07 pm
| Food & drink

A new restaurant wants to open in York – run by robot waiters.

But its future is in doubt after a licence application was rejected by councillors.

HaiZhong Lao Hot Pot & BBQ is already in position on George Hudson Street.

In its windows, the Chinese restaurant states that diners will be ‘served safely by smart robots’.

It depicts droids with three shelves and wheels, which offers a ‘contactless service’ to people’s tables.

The man behind the idea said it would be one of the country’s first automated restaurants.

Lot of investment

HaiZhong Lao Hot Pot & BBQ

At a licensing hearing today (Monday), owner WenLin Chen said that the pandemic had caused a decline in the catering industry.

An interpreter for Mr Chen told the meeting: “Mr Chen has come across with an idea of a contactless restaurant to reduce the human-to-human contact due to the virus transmission risk.

“As the virus pandemic continues to rage, he introduced a robot-run restaurant that helps the business to run smoother, and better in operation.

“Mr Chen wants to start here in York. He wants York to be one of the country’s first automated restaurants that uses this new technology in the industry.”

He said a lot of time, effort and investment had been put into the idea.

More crime and disorder

The front of the restaurant

Mr Chen has applied for a licence to serve alcohol on and off the premises from 11am to midnight daily.

Sgt Jackie Booth of the North Yorkshire Police licensing department told the meeting that police objected to the licence “on the grounds that the prevention of crime and disorder and the prevention of public nuisance would be undermined”.

The restaurant is in an area of York which the council has identified as being hit hard by crime due to the high number of licensed premises operating there.

Sgt Booth said the applicant had failed to identify specific measures that would prevent the new restaurant from adding to alcohol-fuelled disorder – so the licence should be refused.

She said during the last hour every night, from 11pm-midnight, it would be operating mainly as a bar.

York council’s licence enforcement officer Nigel Woodhead objected to the application on similar grounds to the police.

Links to the Regency

The Regency Chinese restaurant on Barbican Road. Photograph: Richard McDougall

Sgt Booth also told the meeting: “I believe there are exceptional circumstances in this case as to why Mr Chen is not suitable to hold a premises licence.”

She said that he was listed as the sole director at Companies House for a premises where he has also been working – the Regency, on 16 Barbican Road.

She said the police “link the address that the applicant has provided on his application to activities that seriously undermine the prevention of crime and disorder”.

At a hearing in June a licensing sub-committee revoked the premises licence for two Regency restaurants – the one on Barbican Road, and another on George Hudson Street, close to the HaiZhong Lao.

This followed serious breaches, including employing illegal workers paid below the minimum wage.

“The applicant, Mr Chen, is intrinsically linked to persons who have seriously and previously undermined the prevention of crime and disorder licensing objective,” she told the committee.

Mr Chen confirmed he did some training in the Regency Chinese restaurant in York to “learn how to run a business”. However, his new business was “independent to his family business”.

And he would employ a manager that had ten years’ experience working alongside him.

After hearing the representations, the committee rejected the application for a licence for HaiZhong Lao Hot Pot & BBQ.

The full reasons will be outlined in a detailed letter within five days. The applicant has the right to appeal.