There has been much hype around Eatsa, the newly opened futuristic restaurant in San Francisco’s Financial District (FiDi), having appeared on major outlets like TechCrunch, Fast Company, NPR, TIME, and NYT.
So of course I had to go eat there myself.
When I walked into Eatsa during my work lunch, I saw no cashiers, but instead 8 iPads lined up on the walls.
Using an iPad, I selected my order from a variety of $6.95 vegetarian quinoa bowls (I could even choose to customize a bowl from scratch if I had wanted). After swiping my credit card to pay through the iPad, I stood on the side to wait for my name to appear on one of the cubbies, where my ordered dish magically appeared behind the transparent LCD screen.
No servers, no busboys, no cash needed.
Here are my favorite things about my Eatsa experience:
- Alternative form of protein
- In a world highly concerned about how we feed and treat animals for consumption, Eatsa eliminates meat from their menu, offering only vegetarian dishes that use quinoa as its core source of protein. The menu lists how many grams of protein each bowl contains. Being a meat lover, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the meat-less bowl and how full I was from it.
- I hate long lines. Especially during workday lunches at noon where all the good places in FiDi are overcrowded with professionals. I just want to go in and out. Eatsa is perfect for the working professional who don’t have time to wine and dine. Although the line was super long when I first visited (because of its recent launch and attention and a tech hiccup), I did receive my order literally within minutes after finally placing it in the iPad.
- Cheap but healthy
- I can usually spend around $12 for a typical lunch out during my workday. So the hearty $6.95 quinoa bowls at Eatsa are absolutely dirt cheap here in San Francisco. And they are super healthy. My Teriyaki Bowl was 488 calories, contained 24g of protein, and was filled with scrumptious ingredients: stir fry-style quinoa, edamame, crispy wonton strips, teriyaki sauce, miso portabello, and apple-cabbage slaw (Check out their other items). Rejoice for cheap and healthy options that make your tongue sing!
- No cashier
- Because you place and customize your order on the iPad yourself, any possible confusion or mistakes by the middleman cashier is removed. This isn’t the first time food delivery have removed that middleman human interaction. Japan have shokkenki food ticket machines as well as food vending machines that can dispense ready made baked goods to hot meals, and Amsterdam has their 24 hour FEBO Wall of Food. Also in the 1900’s, the US had popular automats by Horn & Hardart that took coins. However, I think Eatsa does a great at adding a last element of magic that makes the experience possibly better than anything before it.
- With the lack of servers around, you may expect Eatsa to feel cold, impersonal, and well…automated. But they did a great job of creating a very friendly and approachable environment that felt quite magical, from the cute animations that wiggled on the LCD screens, to seeing your own name and food “magically” appear in a very sleek futuristic looking cubby, minutes after ordering. (Check out the video below to see it work)
Automation has definitely transformed many industries, and one could ask if the dining experience should be one of them? At what point would the speed and efficiency that automation provides not be worth more than the actual human interaction? That would be a careful thing to explore. I could see the benefits of speed/efficiency being less important in settings where the intimate ambience and conversation are sought – such as a during romantic dinner for two where a courteous waiter talks you through all the different specials of the day and answers your questions.
But again, given its location, hours, and type of food, Eatsa clearly isn’t for that.
By taking note of their target consumers’ needs as well as leveraging existing technology, Eatsa has successfully created a fast, efficient, and charming way to deliver food for the working professionals in the FiDi, who want inexpensive, fast, healthy food that they can just grab and go.
We look forward to seeing if Eatsa will be the catalyst for more cashier-less restaurants. How will other new fast food joints and casual restaurants leverage technology to innovate themselves?