Tray chic: shiny automata deliver food in China's Robot Restaurant (Xinhua)

It may not come with a smile, but the state-of-the-art service on show in north-east China brings a new dimension to contemporary notions of nouvelle cuisine.

Welcome to the 21st-century culinary experience at the Robot Restaurant in downtown Harbin, in China's northern Heilongjiang province, where a new generation of dumb waiter has been delighting diners since its opening in June 2012.

Service is most certainly included; indeed, it's the order of the day.

While London diners may be familiar with the conveyor belt system in operation at Japanese eateries such as Yo! Sushi, the Chinese have taken the automated theme to a whole new level.

A retinue of 18 robots, from "Dumpling Robot" to "Noodle Robot", and from "Waitress Robot" to "Usher Robot", caters to the quirky - if kitsch - whims of its clientele.

Diners enter to be greeted by the extended arms of Usher Robot, who exclaims with a sci-fi flourish: "Greetings Earth person! Welcome to the Robot Restaurant!"

The machines - which run along tracks across the floor - are then set to work taking orders and, once the dishes are prepared, conveying them from kitchen to table. "Singing Robot" then entertains diners as they eat. It is unclear if the establishment's complaints procedure is also automated.

Meals can even be delivered through the air, thanks to a suspended conveyor belt that hoists dishes across the room to each table, when mechanised arms then set the dinner down. An automated dog - which can sit at the tables - entertains jubilant children.

Liu Hasheng, chief engineer of the Harbin Haohai Robot Company, which designed the devices, said: "After the busy times during the day, the robot will go for a 'meal', which is electricity."

Each robot costs 250,000 yuan (£25,000), and can work for five hours without so much as a cigarette break.

The restaurant offers a menu of more than 30 dishes, at an average cost of £4 per head.

The opening of the restaurant in Hanin followed the success of an earlier venture in northern Shandong province, which opened in 2010. At the Dalu Rebot Restaurant in Jinan, robots resembling Star Wars androids circle the room, governed by a system of conveyor belts.

"Next, we'll develop robots that can climb stairs and help with kitchen chores like washing the dishes," Zhang Yongpei, a spokesman for the Dalu diner told the South China Morning Post. "And our waitresses will become more sophisticated so they can go direct to a customer's table and even refill diners' drinks."

Happily, the food itself is made the old fashioned way - by sweating, swearing human chefs.