We’ve seen the future of fast food and it’s full of secretive cooking, utensils popping out of walls and a whole lot of quinoa.
Eatsa, an innovative, vegetarian automated restaurant chain, which just opened its first East Coast location (in New York) on Wednesday, is looking to revolutionize the food industry by offering customers a one-of-a-kind food experience.
The tech-savvy restaurant aims to offer fresh, affordable food fast, but with an unconventional twist: It replaces the presence of good old-fashioned cashiers and waiters with… robots.
Instead of the usual face-to-face ordering and pickup, customers at Eatsa simply order their food by means of in-store kiosks, online or through an app on their phones. The food then mysteriously appears on location in a glass “cubby” displaying the customer’s name, and they’re free to chow down. This means no lines, no counter and no human conversation, because what could be worse?Â
The concept, while intriguing, also sounds a bit terrifying. So with a mind full of skepticism Mashable headed down to the newly opened Midtown Manhattan location to see what all the hype is about.
The first-hand Eatsa experience
While one might assume a cashier-free environment would be completely devoid of human interaction, that was far from the case. Though I initially feared the establishment would have a lifeless art gallery-esque vibe, the music was pumping, the customers were chatting and upon walking into the sleek restaurant I was instantly greeted by a friendly Eatsa “mascot.”
Much like Apple Geniuses, Eatsa has several employees stationed on the floor to offer customer assistance and ensure you’re not entirely left alone. “There are always people on the floor â our mascots, we call them â and weâre out here helping the guests and getting them through the process,” explained Scott Bruggman, an Eatsa corporate trainer who began as an R&D chef creating bowls.
To the right of the wood-floored room stood a row of electronic ordering kiosks, and to the left, the restaurant had several tables for those who wanted to engage in a slightly more familiar dining experience. This all felt relatively tame, but the back of the restaurant held the real magic: a wall made entirely of electronic, microwave-looking cubbies that would reveal your mysteriously prepared meal. Zap.Â
Since there was no one to take my order, I made my way to the kiosk to choose from the customizable bowls, bites and beverages on Eatsa’s strictly vegetarian menu. Once I put in my request for a Hummus & Falafel Bowl, I walked toward the illuminated cubbies and within minutes my name was displayed on the screen above them, alerting me that my order was up. This was the moment of truth.
Right before your food arrives in your cubby, Eatsa fills you with intrigue. Your cubby turns completely dark to prevent you from seeing the secrets of the kitchen and tantalizingly displays the words, “It’s coming.” After you’re given a playful peek at your meal, the cubby gives you the literal green light and you can receive your meal by tapping the glass twice.
TBH, it felt like something straight out of The Jetsons.
The process was quick, simple and the food was fresh, as promised.
Though I was satisfied with the space-age experience, I couldn’t stop wondering what the hell was going on behind that wall of mystery. I turned to Dean Marsh, director of market operations for the East Coast for some answers, but was kindly shut down. Marsh adamantly explained that much like the secrecy of costumed characters at Disney World, the public is not supposed to know what truly goes on in the depths of the Eatsa kitchen.
Despite the attempt to keep the tricks of the trade to themselves, many believe that several human chefs work alongside robots. “The Eatsa bots are back there,” Bruggman said. “Thereâs a lot of different things going on and we use as much technology as we can to better enhance the experience.”
First-time customers and vegetarians Madee Bryke and her boyfriend Andrew Powell also had their theories. “There are people back there; I know that,” Bryke said. “I think itâs fun that thereâs robots, but there are definitely people still working.”
As of right now, Bruggman described the tech and human ratio as “a real blend â thatâs how we make it so fast and so quick.”
The end of social interaction?!
With the rise of technology creating strong barriers against personal interaction, one of the major concerns the innovative restaurant raises is that the lack of human interaction may come across as too impersonal.
While this may seen like a dream for introverts, surprisingly, the futuristic vibe only made things more fun. Millennials, such as Sabina M. who works a few blocks away and was eating there for the second day in a row, felt that if anything, the environment was encouraging people to be more social. “Maybe itâs just because of the novelty,” she said, “but it seems like people are almost more social here cause everyoneâs like woah this is crazy. So itâs kind of getting people to talk to one another.”Â
Bryke and Powell, also millennials, agreed. “I definitely think it almost opens it up to more talk, it seems like they have a community,” Bryke said.
Her boyfriend, Powell, said that when you think about it, the automated restaurant is not much different from other forms of take-out. “People already order Seamless and then go pick it up from a delivery guy so how is this much different? Itâs almost like a robotâs making it anyways.”
To get a sense of how the older demographic was feeling about the revolutionary service, Gen X-er and first-time customer, Maarten Nederlof gave Mashable his two-cents. “Weâre a little older and have been watching the whole decline in social interaction,” he said. “So this is a walk on the non-interacting side for us, but I think for younger people who have no social interaction, coming here is a great avoidance scheme.”
Nederlof explained that there are still tables, so people getting food can sit down inside and socialize. Therefore it’s the best of both worlds. “Are you really missing out on that much?” he questioned.Â
Marsh, director of market operations for Easta, feels the restaurant’s technology is actually giving people more time to engage in social interaction. “Where you may spend 15 to 20 minutes at any of our competitors getting in and out with the regular fast food concept, for us it’s three to four minutes. We feel that extra time gives you even more time interact with people,” he said.Â
The restaurant of the future?
Though the Manhattan Eatsa has only been open for a few days, the restaurant’s unique style is receiving a lot of love (just like like the five other locations in California and D.C.)
“Every restaurant competitor on the street has been in at least two times and weâve only been open for two days. Weâve gotten a lot of interest from the big boys: the McDonalds and Starbucks of the world,” he said.
What’s next? Perhaps an automated restaurant to please all the meat-eaters out there.