SAN FRANCISCO — Did I just experience the future of fast food?
Maybe. But regardless, my experience testing Eatsa was seamless, fun, fast, affordable, and tasty. Perhaps most notable, it required no human interaction.
The San Francisco-based chain is a tech-infused take on the century-old Automat concept. It serves healthy, customizable meat-free quinoa bowls and now has three Bay Area locations and one Los Angeles outpost after debuting last year.
Eatsa also just started serving breakfast, so this week while I was in The City, I stopped by for a morning meal.
The store itself is modern-looking and spotless.
I noticed several small boxes ahead of me, unsure of what they were for. There was also a screen above that listed people’s names, which appeared to represent orders.
There was also an Eatsa employee at the door, but he didn’t say much, so I headed over to the tablets positioned alongside the restaurant’s walls.
You begin by swiping your credit card.
From there, the intuitive app lets you pick from a few recommended $3.95 bowls, or you can create your own. Customers can also see their past purchase history, based on the credit card used, making it easy to order something you created in the past.
I decided to make a custom order. I started with a “scramble” base and began adding different sauces, veggies, cheese, and more. Prices were listed alongside each item, and the total cost was visible on the bottom right of the screen.
If I needed help from the employee standing nearby, I could hail him via the app.
After building my bowl, I added a green tea, which could also be customized with cream and sugar.
I completed my purchase, which came out to $12.25 — not bad considering a few extra custom additions like guacamole, along with the $1.95 tea — and then headed back over to the futuristic vending machine-like array of boxes. I noticed my name was now on the board.
After four minutes, my name was highlighted in green, with “Cubby 17” labeled alongside it.
I walked over to Cubby 17, and tapped twice on the top corner of the transparent LCD screen. It opened, like magic, and I took my order.
Eatsa’s utensil distribution process was also high-tech, with sensors that detect motion and spit out single forks, spoons, and knifes.
I sat down outside and opened up my bowl. It looked super yummy.
The first few bites reminded me of eating Chipotle, where I always order a burrito bowl. The quinoa, potatoes, salsa, guacamole, spinach, and corn all came together nicely. The food was fresh.
As I ate, I wondered what the heck was behind those boxes. Did robots just make my food? They certainly helped me order, and based on the speed, it seemed as though there is a network of bots putting together bowls in the back.
My entire experience, from ordering to picking up to the food itself, was quite good.
Eatsa is an impressive example of how a restaurant can effectively use technology. The company also has an app that lets people order ahead and set a pick up time to avoid lines.
So far, people seem to like Eatsa — both its ordering style, as well as the food. The location I visited has a 4-star rating on Yelp out of 352 reviews.
The Eatsa concept helps restaurants eliminate cashiers, which saves money and arguably reduces wait time. However, some may feel like removing all human interaction from their ordering and eating experience may be a downside. A recent Eater headline described Eatsa as a “soulless lunch option.”
But there is certainly a magical feeling about the whole process. It’s also cheap, healthy, and fast — an attractive option for today’s consumer. Don’t be surprised if other companies follow Eatsa’s lead.