Have High-Tech Restaurants Gone Too Far?

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on Oct 25, 2018 9:00:00 AM
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When the fully automated, minimal-human-contact restaurant known as Eatsa opened its doors in 2015, it was amidst much fanfare and investor enthusiasm. Articles sprung up about the low labor costs that the ordering tablets, automated processes, and food delivered in touchscreen cubicles would create.

The founders checked all the high-appeal requests of the newest generations—healthy, vegetarian, quinoa-centric food, speedy service (often less than two minutes), reasonably priced (up to 30% less than fast-casual Chipotle), and little human contact (there’s one concierge that keeps the place orderly and helps the technically challenged patrons).

But is that really what the latest generations truly want?

Three years later, Eatsa closed all but two of its seven locations. Was it technology or the rapid expansion from West to East that caused the demise of five units?

It could be a little bit of both. After all, the Chicago-based Wow Bao launched Eatsa’s technology at one of their 10-units in a trial run and is now expanding with the help of this high-tech infusion. By 2019, they expect to double their units. We’ll keep you posted on how that goes for them.

On the other hand, there is something unsettling about the onslaught of restaurants and retail outlets that have limited human interaction. And the theory that Millennials are a driving force in this trend toward avoiding human contact may be slightly exaggerated.

According to a survey conducted by Mattersight Corporation, most millennials prefer person-to-person contact over digital options, believing it allows them to have more meaningful conversations. For a health-conscious generation, this makes perfect sense.

Why? Because extensive use of technology has been linked to depression, insomnia, anxiety and stress. Because human touch has a dramatic impact on not just emotional, but physical health as well. Because healthy human interaction increases your feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin while boosting your immune system and lowering your blood pressure. I’ll take a hug, please.

Other tech-oriented restaurants that have entered the fray only to fold

4Food, a fast-food, health-conscious venue that used iPad technology to guide customers through the ordering process as well as a smart board that recorded social media interactions.

‘s Baggers, a fully-automated German restaurant that included touch-screen ordering tablets at the tables and metal rails upon which food and drinks were delivered.

The Melt, founded by one of Silicon Valley’s own, Jonathan Kaplan, planned to open 500 fast-casual units within five years. Their high-tech gadget, that included software and hardware, was a device that created a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich in 45 seconds. Top that off with ordering kiosks and app-based geo-fencing that allowed orders to be near-ready as customers entered the building, and you were looking at some creations only tech wizards would conjure. Some suggested the hype wasn’t followed up with a restaurant’s golden ticket—good food—and that technology, instead of being their saving grace, was their downfall. Their once 18 locations have now fallen to eight in California.

Shake Shack abandoned its self-service, kiosk-ordering, cashless store concept less than a year after its conception.

Lest you worry that we’re going back to the standard approach to a successful restaurant: great food, good service, and an awesome ambiance, have no fear. Change is nothing if not constant. Here are a few of the up-and-coming and tried-and-true restaurants that are embracing technology.

Hey Zeus is an Australian brand that will soon be opening a location in Washington. The healthy wraps and bowls are ordered using a digital kiosk, and the food arrives in a brown paper bag on a conveyor belt.

TGI Fridays uses data from its loyalty program to provide detailed profiles that then predict a customer’s perfect order—not just for them, but for their whole family. Some consider this high-tech data mining a little invasive, others appreciate the attention to detail and service.

I’m sure, like the restaurants surfacing across China, we will one day experience robots for servers. I wonder how they’ll respond when I tell them my ribeye needs a few more minutes on the grill?

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Topics: Staff, Technology, Cost Reduction

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