The restaurant industry as a whole may be slow to adopt technology, but Eatsa has embraced it full force, being lauded as a fully automated restaurant. That’s not entirely true—staffers are on hand to prep food in the back as well as help out guests at the ordering stations. But the concept is scoring points for leveling up the idea of frictionless service.

Co-owner Tim Young strategically went with San Francisco for Eatsa’s August launch, because it’s a tech-savvy audience that skews more millennial, he told Restaurant Business at the time. Eatsa’s limited menu centers on customizable vegetarian quinoa bowls, and Young purposely selected locations near offices—and a heavy flow of lunch traffic—to capture customers who are looking to grab a healthful meal in three minutes. The goal was to create an easy and fast experience with the help of technology, he says.

Guests place orders via smartphone at or at an in-store kiosk. “We didn’t see the point in having a cashier hear what [customers] say and translate that into the POS when they are comfortable doing it themselves.”

To ensure a seamless experience, Young and his partners invested a lot of time in upfront testing. There was a lot of research that went into its app, Young says, and the team built a mock Eatsa prototype before launching to test the user experience. It also conducted focus groups to make sure directional cues were clear and using the restaurant was intuitive.

Young credits the back-of-house tech with allowing Eatsa to produce large volumes fast and keep its price point low (bowls are $6.95). The kitchen has a series of tablets, each of which directs staffers on what they should be doing. “It helps to take the thinking and guesswork out of the process,” he says. Training also happens much faster than at most restaurants, Young says, because the technology helps new employees along. 

Eatsa currently has three locations in California. The latest has only four self-ordering kiosks, compared to nine at the first unit. The reason for the shrinkage: enhanced convenience for app users. “The smaller footprint shows just how adaptable the Eatsa experience can be,” Chief Design Officer Scott Drummond noted in a release. 

“I would like to think it’s simple, intuitive. We paid a lot of attention to keeping the process easy to flow through.” —Tim Young, co-owner

How it works

Guests place their own order via app or kiosk [01]; when it’s ready, they tap on LED touchscreens [02] to open the cubby [03] and retrieve their quinoa bowl [04]. Eatsa’s system starts recognizing guests’ habits after a few visits and makes suggestions.