A dumpling served by a robot? Wow Bao gives Chicago its first fully automated eatery

A dumpling served by a robot? Wow Bao gives Chicago its first fully automated eatery

Chicago Tribune |
Samantha Bomkamp |
Nov 17, 2017
Original Article: "A dumpling served by a robot? Wow Bao gives Chicago its first fully automated eatery"

Qow Bao is set to open a new location that will be missing something big: waitstaff.

The quick-service Asian chain will open Chicago’s first restaurant with fully automated service Dec. 1.

Customers will order and pay at a kiosk and pick up their food from one of a dozen LED-lit cubbies, which will display their name on an LCD screen when their food is ready. Wow Bao is also introducing a new app in tandem with the Near North restaurant so visitors can order on their phones.

There will still be cooks preparing the chain’s steamed buns, noodles and rice behind the scenes, but they will be invisible to customers. The only staff customers will see will be a “concierge” or two tasked with guiding them through the order process and assisting with problems.

But are Chicagoans ready for this restaurant of the future, devoid of human interaction? Wow Bao President Geoff Alexander thinks so, noting that Wow Bao has always been a leader in technology, adding self-order kiosks and online ordering in 2009. And because customers are already accustomed to digital options at the chain, Alexander said the automated restaurant “is a natural evolution for us.”

The new technology has failed to catch on in markets outside of San Francisco for its creator, Eatsa, a grain bowl and salad chain that scrapped its own plans for a Chicago store and announced last month that it was closing existing sites in New York, Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, Calif.

But Wow Bao is betting heavily on automation. The chain plans to double its locations next year, implementing the new technology at all new sites. The Near North restaurant will be Wow Bao’s sixth location in Chicago and 14th overall, including a delivery-only location in Los Angeles and stadium, airport and college campus outposts.

“Was the world ready for Facebook? Shopping on Amazon? It’s the same thing in restaurants,” Alexander said. “Hospitality is evolving.”

Technology in the restaurant industry is changing quickly, with even large chains like McDonald’s rolling out mobile order and payment systems and installing ordering kiosks in restaurants. For restaurants, there are a number of benefits. Orders that come through kiosks or on mobile phones can be placed more quickly and with fewer errors. Customers also tend to spend more when ordering electronically, and the technology allows restaurants to scale back employee hours.

Alexander said Wow Bao’s order kiosks are overwhelmingly preferred by customers.

“There are times when we have no one in line at the cashier, and six or seven deep at the kiosk,” he said.

Alexander admits that it may take customers time to adjust to a restaurant without any waitstaff, but he said he believes that the model is a sign of where the restaurant industry is headed.

“Are we early? We may be. But the world changes in a heartbeat, and we’re not far off from it becoming mainstream,” he said. “We are going to help make it mainstream.”

Wow Bao is the first restaurant chain to license this technology from Eatsa, which is operating just two locations in San Francisco as it tests and builds out its brand

Eatsa also hopes to pursue other deals that involve licensing its technology to established chains, CEO and co-founder Tim Young said.

At Eatsa, Young said, customers place orders and get their food in less than 90 seconds, which is comparable with fast-food service. He added the model also takes out “pain points” that can be present at restaurants, including the slowdowns and glitches that can occur between different apps and in-store technologies.

But John Gordon, principal at Pacific Management Consulting Group, said that while there are clear benefits to technology in the restaurant industry, full automation may not sit well with customers — especially older generations.

“We’ve got to remember that the restaurant business is still essentially a human-to-human endeavor,” he said.

Wow Bao, which was founded in 2003 by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, recently got an undisclosed investment from Chicago private equity firm Valor Equity Partners to accelerate its growth. Valor Equity has an existing partnership with Eatsa.

Media Contact

Emily Clark pr@leye.com 773-878-7340

You May Also Like...

In The Restaurants
Rise & Shine: The Best Way to Breakfast During the Week
Sep 12, 2018

Early risers rejoice! We've rounded up all of our weekday breakfast specialties that will keep you…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Where to Eat Lunch
Sep 10, 2018

For that one hour escape from your office, you want to make sure to make most of your lunch hour.…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Kid-Friendly Dining Options and Activities
Sep 7, 2018

You've been to the zoo, the beach, the pool... the kids are starting to get stir crazy. We've got…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Your Guide to Game Day Grub 2018
Sep 6, 2018

Fall is the kick-off to football season and no matter what team you are rootin' for, several of our…

read more >
In The Restaurants
The Best Time of the Year: Patio Season
Aug 10, 2018

Warm weather is here, which means al fresco dining is too! We've rounded up the best patios at…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Your Guide to the 26 Best Burgers to Try During National Burger Month
Apr 30, 2018

Burgers deserve a full month of celebrations which is why May has been declared National Burger…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Trending Now: Matcha
Apr 10, 2018

For all those who are matcha obsessed our chefs and mixologists have incorporated this…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Luck of the Irish: St. Patrick’s Day Treats
Mar 14, 2018

St. Patrick's Day is Saturday, March 17 and our restaurants are striking gold with special…

read more >
How To
Already Fell Off the Healthy New Year’s Resolution Wagon? Let’s Eat.
Jan 12, 2018

"New Year, Same Me" more your speed? Well, we're right there with you. Celebrate one of our favorite…

read more >
Openings
3 Reasons Why You Should Check Out the Newest Wow Bao
Dec 20, 2017

Whether you work near Chicago's Magnificent Mile or you're more of a frequent shopper, you may have…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Welcome Our 2017 Newcomers
Dec 5, 2017

2017 is coming to a close, but we opened lots of new doors this year! Lettuce has welcomed newcomers…

read more >
Openings
The First Fully Automated Wow Bao is Now Open
Dec 1, 2017

On December 1, Wow Bao opened Chicago’s first and only fully automated dining experience.…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Fall Harvest’s Best Dishes
Oct 30, 2017

The bounty of fall harvest comes at a time in the year when we are craving the comfort of cool…

read more >
In The Restaurants
In Bloom: Strawberries
May 21, 2017

Summer is on the horizon, which means strawberries season is back to brighten our palates! From…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Sandwiches – They’re What’s For Breakfast
Aug 15, 2016

What has a runny egg, meat (sometimes veggies) and cheese sandwiched between two buttery biscuits…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Where to Eat & Drink in October
Sep 21, 2012

Throughout the month of October, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants are donating a portion of…

read more >

Recent Posts

In The Restaurants
Here’s Where to Happy Hour
Sep 21, 2018

It's 5 o'clock somewhere! Here are all the happy hour deals at select Lettuce Entertain You…

read more >
In The Restaurants
New Detroit-Style Pan Pizza Rises at Stella Barra Hollywood
Sep 20, 2018

The Detroit-style pan pizza craze has swept the Midwest for years, and now, it has reached the West…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Here’s Where to Brunch this Weekend
Sep 20, 2018

If you're anything like us, you plan your weekend around brunch. Here is your guide to all of our…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Celebrate Oktoberfest with this Festive Kickoff Party at Hub 51
Sep 19, 2018

With fall, we see the arrival of apple-picking, pumpkin spice-flavored everything and best of…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Late Night & Live Music with Lettuce
Sep 19, 2018

Night owls rejoice - select Lettuce restaurants and nightclubs offer everything from late-night food…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Best Spots for Group Dining
Sep 18, 2018

You finally got the whole crew to agree on the same day and time, now you just have to find the…

read more >
How To
This Secret Ingredient Will Take Your Guac to the Next Level
Sep 18, 2018

El Segundo Sol serves up some of the freshest, most authentic Mexican food on the Las Vegas Strip,…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Cooking and Dance Classes To Improve Your Skills
Sep 17, 2018

Ever wanted to learn how to cook like a chef or dance like a pro? We offer a variety of ongoing and…

read more >
How To
A Few Of Our Favorite Game Day Recipes
Sep 14, 2018

When you are in the mood to get your hands dirty in the kitchen for hosting your crew or solo…

read more >
In The Restaurants
5 Ways to Play Summer Scratch Off
Sep 13, 2018

Summer is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. Lucky for you, you can play…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Gluten-Free Friendly Restaurants
Sep 12, 2018

Finding gluten-free friendly restaurants has gotten a lot easier than it used to be. At Lettuce…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Rise & Shine: The Best Way to Breakfast During the Week
Sep 12, 2018

Early risers rejoice! We've rounded up all of our weekday breakfast specialties that will keep you…

read more >
Lettuce Consulting Group

Grow Your Business

Learn More
Career Opportunities

Join Our Team

Search Jobs
Latest Articles

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up Now

Lettuce on Instagram

Checkout our feed @lettuceentertainyou!