Posts Tagged fast-food

The Future of Fast Food is Serverless

Eatsa - Cubby - Food Innovation

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.
  • Fast
    • 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.
  • Magical
    • 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?

Eatsa - Fast Food Innovation

Eatsa - Food Innovation

Pizza Hut Innovation: The “Subconscious Menu”


Pizza Hut’s Menu Innovation

It’s always fun to see new technology being used in new and unexpected places. One fascinating area where the latest eye-tracking technology is being experimented with is at the pizza joint.  Pizza Hut recently joined Swedish Company Tobii Technology in launching a new menu innovation called the “Subconscious Menu”. The technology syncs with the consumers’ eyes, and based on where their eyes had rested the longest on a tablet screen that displays the chain’s 20 most popular ingredients, it creates your “perfect pizza” in 2.5 seconds, without the consumer ever having to say a word. Pizza Hut claims that they currently have an astounding success rate of 98%.

As eye-tracking becomes more refined and gets more traction in marketing, we are excited for the infinite possibilities that will emerge when leveraging new technology in research to discover more insights into human behavior.

Bubble Gum Broccoli? McDonald’s Food Innovation Fail

bubble gum broccoli innovation fast food fail

As McDonald’s faces pressure to revive their sales as they lose their consumers to healthier fast-casual options like Chipotle, who promotes organic and local sourcing, they are moving on multiple fronts to stay relevant, and ultimately thrive in an increasingly health-conscious world.

Bubble Gum Flavored Broccoli” is one thing that McDonald’s has discovered not to do.

This wacky food mashup was a front-runner in McDonald’s attempt to get kids to eat vegetables, with CEO Don Thompson sharing the breakthrough publicly at a VC event. However, unsurprisingly enough, they soon realized that adding sweet flavoring to a vegetable wouldn’t make it any more appetizing to kids who were absolutely confused by the flavor.

The crunchy cruciferous has always been a hard sell with growing palates, and in the past they’ve been smothered with sauces far and wide to make them easier to eat. Broccoli has been whirled into green juices and hidden away with other natural flavors to make a tasty drink. We can imagine that McDonald’s saw a number of benefits with the reflavoring including cost, exclusivity and an offering that fits in the “healthy” category. Since we don’t know how this concoction was created (through additional flavorings or genetics), they’ve left open the door for blowback from related to GMO concerns, ridicule by healthy food advocates and parents that are trying to get their children to explore new tastes and textures.

McDonald’s needs to better understand its own consumers in order to focus their product development efforts. Throwing oddities like bubble gum broccoli at a wall to see what sticks may not be the most efficient way to launch successful innovations.

What emotional and social factors drive people to and away from McDonald’s? What opportunities are there for McDonald’s to encourage healthier eating from their menu? How can the brand launch innovations that support a healthier image that overshadows their “Super Size Me” scar?

To innovate and survive in an increasingly health-conscious world, fast food and casual dining restaurants need to gain consumer insights that can help to identify the best opportunities to stay one step, or multiple steps ahead of the curve for their brand. Consumer understanding is the key, and McDonald’s needs to take their insight to the next level to avoid public missteps as they work to transition their brand.