It’s often restaurants setting the trends, but this time the potential influencer is coming from the outside. It’s being lauded as a convenience store of the future, but Amazon Go is breaking ground for all of foodservice. The concept brings new meaning to grab-and-go with its “just walk out” format, where customers take what they want and walk out without waiting in line or paying a cashier; they just need to have an Amazon app and account. At a time when labor issues are paramount for restaurants—half of operators surveyed by Technomic in December said increased labor costs are the biggest threat to their operating profits—the format could serve as a model for the restaurant industry, giving operators an alternative to kiosks if they want to save on labor. 

But that depends on whether the model works. Located at the company’s Seattle headquarters, Amazon Go is currently available only to Amazon employees. It was slated to open to the public early this year, but the date has been pushed back so Amazon can work out some kinks with its technology. Amazon Go uses sensors to automatically detect when items—including packaged meals made fresh on-site daily, Amazon Meal Kits and grocery staples such as milk and cheese—are taken from (or returned to) shelves and stores them in a virtual cart, but anonymous sources familiar with the store told The Wall Street Journal the system hasn’t been working when there are more than 20 customers in the store, although they say it works “flawlessly” otherwise.

Amazon declined to comment and remains tight-lipped about the opening date and questions surrounding the store, but the company did confirm reports that Amazon Go is now selling alcohol (though it hasn’t said whether it’s for on-site consumption or solely for grab-and-go). But customers can’t exactly just walk out with adult beverages—an employee is on hand to check IDs.  

More on Amazon Go

  • Meals are customizable, with proteins, sauces and more sold on the side of grab-and-go entrees. 
  • Amazon Go is available to employees only—for now.