This month, Eatsa, a restaurant concept focused on automated ordering and limiting the human factor in dining, hit the Financial District of San Francisco. Foodies and techies gathered to witness the unveiling of a unique concept in which cashiers were replaced by iPads and food pickup was done through mechanized wall cubbies with animated LED displays. The menu was almost an aside to the big tech show, but for those interested, it’s completely vegetarian, based on quinoa, and centered around customizable “bowls” that go for around $6.95 a pop.
While the food is prepared by humans (for the time being), the expectation is that you will not need to see staff while ordering, paying, or picking up your food. On the other side of the cubbies, employees see a lot of tech too, as Eatsa’s software directs the action behind the scenes, dolling out tasks efficiently through an algorithm.
It may look new, but we’ve sort of seen this before. Long before Eatsa came into play, there were Automats. Automats–aka vending machines that dispersed pre-made food became popular in the early 1900’s and saw great popularity in industrial cities by laborers and artists. They were considered extremely cheap and convenient for those on the go. Automats diminished in the 1970’s when fast food restaurants became popular, but it looks like they have now taken form in a new and tech-y shape.
Eatsa’s “new” food experience bears a striking resemblance to the Automats of old…
So what are people saying so far about Eatsa? Digging into reviews, most people were skeptical, but willing to give the quasi-novel concept a go. In terms of navigating through the menu, some customers described the iPad as being similar to playing a video game. Words used to describe diners’ experiences include “fun” and “excellent” with one reviewer saying Eatsa was “solving food problems and solving them well.” (You can see more of the reviews in a great write up here: http://sf.eater.com/2015/9/2/9252149/eatsa-the-early-word-san-francisco.)
And what does all this mean for the future of dining? According to the CEO of Eatsa, they “are are producing food for customers at an incredible rate and… creating a new kind of fast food experience. What we’ve designed creates a sense of mystery, creates a sense of intrigue.”
How mysterious and intriguing will Eatsa be after a few months? We shall see. The automats fell out of favor once fresher food was available just as fast, and the “Fast Food” craze took off. Eatsa solves that problem, but will the loss of human touch always be good for business?
With “Fast Casual” on the rise, assembly-line style chains like SweetGreen, &Pizza, Roti, Chop’t, and more, are banking on human interaction and a visual experience (talk to someone and then actually watch them prepare your food!) that are the antithesis of the Eatsa strategy. So far, those bets have paid off. Will Eatsa’s?