Morning Brew - ☕ A bot to be desired

How a robot server helps as restaurants struggle to find workers.
February 22, 2023

Retail Brew


Hello, hello. Good news for White Lotus fans who are still saving up for that trip to Sicily: Starbucks will soon bring the taste of the Italian island to the US with a “transformational” new line of olive oil-infused coffee drinks called Oleato. The line was inspired by Howard Schultz’s own trip to Sicily, which seemed to end better than Jennifer Coolidge’s.

In today’s edition:

—Andrew Adam Newman, Erin Cabrey, Susanna Vogel


Ahead of the serve

A gif of the robotic waiter at Prince Tea House. Dianna “Mick” McDougall

We were sitting in a cozy booth at Prince Tea House in New York’s Chinatown on a recent afternoon, waiting for the pot of rose milk tea we’d ordered.

And then we saw our server, Bella, emerging from the kitchen and coming our way with our tea, smiling broadly and—wait, was she flirting?—winking at us.

No, definitely not flirting, seeing as Bella is a robot. The device’s full name is BellaBot, and it’s made by Pudu Robotics, a company founded in 2016 in Shenzhen, China. Just over four feet tall, with shelves for plates and glassware and pointy cat ears, Bella has a touchscreen for a face. Staff tap it to reveal a range of capabilities, including going to specific tables, returning to the dishwasher area with loaded bus buckets, and going to a table to deliver a candle-topped cake while singing “Happy Birthday.”

After Bella arrived at our table, Shu Yang, the restaurant’s manager, took the pot of tea, poured it for us, and placed it in a ceramic base over a lit candle. As we were taking the first sip of the slightly sweet, pinkish, and delicious tea, Bella gave us one last smile and made her way back to the kitchen.

Suits to a tea: “I’m so glad I have this,” Yang said of the robot, which the restaurant purchased in January 2022. “It’s really helped me a lot.”

With the pandemic, “we were really short for staff a lot of [the] time,” Yang said.

Yang’s staffing challenge is typical. Although December marked 24 consecutive months of job growth for the restaurant industry—adding 2.2 million jobs over those two years—it’s still 3.6% (450,000 jobs) below pre-pandemic levels, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by the National Restaurant Association.

Keep reading here.—AAN



Raising the retention bar


Keeping customers comin’ back for more isn’t easy. After 200 days, there’s only a 20% chance your average e-commerce shopper will darken your digital doorstep again. The solution? Subscriptions, which retain a whopping 45% of customers in roughly the same amount of time.

And Recharge has the scoop on subscriptions and retention. Their 2023 State of Subscription Commerce report has tons of info on how merchants of all sizes and verticals performed in 2022, as well as the tactics they used to create more valuable customer relationships.

Want a peek inside? Here are some highlights:

  • Subscription merchants’ LTV increased by an average of 11% across verticals.
  • Among merchants who offered subscriptions, 32.4% of their customers subscribed.
  • The average subscriber held over 4 total subscriptions between 2 different merchants.

Ready to retain? Read the report.


Coworking with Ankan Chittalipi

Ankan Chittalipi Ankan Chittalipi

On Wednesdays, we wear pink spotlight Retail Brew’s readers. Want to be featured in an upcoming edition? Click here to introduce yourself.

Today, we’re hopping across the pond to London to get to know Ankan Chittalipi, who has worked for companies like Diesel, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein throughout her fashion career, and joined British leather goods retailer Smythson of Bond Street as a fashion buyer last year.

How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in retail? If you have watched Friends, I have the same job as Rachel Green. I buy products for my company with a limited budget on the basis of what I feel would sell the best and get high return on the money spent on buying those products.

One thing we can’t guess about your job from your LinkedIn profile? It’s a lot more spreadsheets than one would assume it to be. As much as I’d like to believe that buying is an art form, it has to be backed by science and logic.

What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on? Strategizing pop-up installations during fashion weeks. The installations need to be interesting, catchy, and engaging. Working on its concept to executing it—it’s a whirlwind of a process that I absolutely enjoy.

Which emerging retail trend are you most excited about this year, and why? AI modeling and designs. It has changed the game altogether. Once upon a time, we were able to experiment with a limited number of designs, but now with the right technology, we are able to test the waters with a myriad of concepts.

What’s your go-to coffee order? Flat white, without a doubt.

Worst piece of advice you’ve received? “You should have your life planned by the age of 30.” As far as I believe, nothing can ever be truly planned to the T. With new roles and industries evolving every year, it is too restrictive to be stuck to a plan that you make in your early 20s.

What was your favorite retail product when you were 15, and what’s your favorite retail product now? I remember wanting to feel and act like an adult when I was 15, which led to my obsession with collecting watches—not really brand-specific, but I remember having one for each day of the week! 15 years later, I am still quite obsessed, but the mantra now is “less is more” as I drool over my evergreen Casio watch, be it work or leisure, day or night.



DE&I as a KPI

Green head with money sign surrounded by other faces Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Source: cienpies/Getty Images

“From 2020 through 2021, tying executive pay to meeting diversity goals grew significantly in popularity, with companies including McDonald’s, Nike, and Starbucks tying some form of executive compensation to boosting gender and racial diversity in their workforces or in leadership positions,” writes HR Brew’s Susanna Vogel:

Some companies, including those at the Golden Arches, opted to do so, at least in part, because some shareholders wanted it…But elsewhere, other shareholders objected to the practice—and, in some cases, objected aggressively.

Read the whole story here on HR Brew.



Today’s top retail reads.

Misery business: “Teenage dirtbag” nostalgia has hit the beauty industry, from punk-inspired eyeshadow palettes from ColourPop to the hair dye from Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams’s Good Dye Young. (Glossy)

Hard launch: As soda giants enter the alcohol market with products like Hard Mtn Dew and canned Jack & Coke, health experts are worried about the effects of these hard sodas. (the New York Times)

Paying off: Klarna CEO and co-founder Sebastian Siemiakowski shares how the Swedish payment company found success in the US. (TechCrunch)

Hit the books: The Brew’s bestselling course is back! Gain insight on how company goals turn into dollars and cents with our 1-week Financial Forecasting sprint—and prepare to take your retail business to the next level. Sign up here.


The Checkout

The Checkout

Modern priorities and lifestyles have reimagined the world of commerce, forcing retailers to revisit who and where their customers are—and how to hold on to them.

Join us at 12pm ET on Feb. 23 for a free virtual event sponsored by Bolt as we discuss insights from the latest report on shopper personas, the importance of the checkout experience, and more.

Sign up here.


  • Home Depot said it will spend $1 billion to boost hourly workers’ wages.
  • Walmart saw grocery sales jump while general merchandise dropped in Q4.
  • TJ Maxx parent TJX Cos. reported Q4 revenue above analysts’ expectations but weaker-than-expected annual profit.
  • Target plans to spend $100 million to grow its network of sortation centers.
  • Louis Vuitton received a cease-and-desist letter over the use of late artist Joan Mitchell’s paintings in its advertisements.


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Written by Andrew Adam Newman, Erin Cabrey, and Susanna Vogel

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