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Spicing up hospitality service encounters: the case of Pepper™

Aarni Tuomi (School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki, Finland)
Iis P. Tussyadiah (School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK)
Paul Hanna (School of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK)

International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management

ISSN: 0959-6119

Article publication date: 26 February 2021

Issue publication date: 17 November 2021




This paper aims to explore the implications of integrating humanoid service robots into hospitality service encounters by evaluating two service prototypes using Softbank Robotics’ popular service robot Pepper™: to provide information (akin to a receptionist) and to facilitate order-taking (akin to a server). Drawing both studies together, the paper puts forward novel, theory-informed yet context-rooted design principles for humanoid robot adoption in hospitality service encounters.


Adopting a multiple method qualitative approach, two service prototypes are evaluated with hospitality and tourism experts (N = 30, Prototype 1) and frontline hospitality employees (N = 18, Prototype 2) using participant observation, in situ feedback, semi-structured interviews and photo-elicitation.


The adoption of humanoid service robots in hospitality is influenced by the following four layers of determinants: contextual, social, interactional and psychological factors, as well as extrinsic and intrinsic drivers of adoption. These empirical findings both confirm and extend previous conceptualizations of human-robot interaction (HRI) in hospitality service.

Research limitations/implications

Despite using photo-elicitation to evoke insight regarding the use of different types of service robots in hospitality, the paper mostly focuses on anthropomorphized service robots such as Pepper™.

Practical implications

Adopting humanoid service robots will transform hospitality operations, whereby the most routine, unpleasant tasks such as taking repeat orders or dealing with complaints may be delegated to service robots or human-robot teams.

Social implications

Working with and receiving service from Pepper™ changes the service encounter from direct practical, technical considerations to more nuanced social and psychological implications, particularly around feelings of self-esteem, social pressure and social judgment.


This paper presents one of the first empirical studies on HRI in hospitality service encounters using Softbank Robotics’ Pepper™. In doing so, the paper presents a novel framework for service robot adoption rooted in first-hand user interaction as opposed to previous, theory-driven conceptualizations of behavior or empirical studies exploring behavioral intention.



The authors would like to thank Georgia Blanco-Litchfield for their help with developing code for PepperTM.


Tuomi, A., Tussyadiah, I.P. and Hanna, P. (2021), "Spicing up hospitality service encounters: the case of Pepper™", International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 33 No. 11, pp. 3906-3925.



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