Is food, and more specifically foodservice, fun today, or is it essentially, eat-and-run, no time for fun at most brands these days?
Well, at eatsa, operators say that even if eating is now a rushed experience for many consumers, they still want it to be fun, rather than just an answer to our growling guts. In fact, when asked what word customers most often use to describe the experience of eating at the tech-heavy brand, CEO Tim Young said simply, “Magic.”
The automation-dominant San Francisco-based brand is officially a fast casual concept, but Young said most of its die-hard patrons are those in a QSR-kind of rush to eat, who still want to do so healthfully. Likewise, he said eatsa customers also expect a little jolt of jolly in their rushed restaurant experience and on that note, eatsa delivers, Young said, through a combination of automation and a brand experience hellbent on charming the diner.
Over the last year, this brand has performed a little magic on the restaurant industry marketplace, too, by morphing from a bowls-based restaurant concept to an automated foodservice platform adaptable to other restaurant brands. In fact, last month, the Wow Bao chain opened its sixth eatsa-assisted location in Chicago.
When you consider that Wow Bao only opened its first eatsa-platform location less than a year ago, it becomes evident that the company’s increased direction as a restaurant platform, as opposed to merely a restaurant brand has real viability.
But at QSRweb, we were still curious to find out how this very tech-heavy approach manages to instill fun in the eating out experience, beginning with asking Young where those automated restaurant eatsa customers are actually coming from.
Young said that contrary to what some might think, the brand’s customers — though they may first try the concept for its novelty — come back for the food. Or put more simply, automation is great, but only if the food is, too.
“The majority of our traffic comes from the weekday lunchtime daypart. Often (it’s) people on their work lunch break looking to grab a quick bite to eat that’s healthful and affordable,” He said.
“We also get tourists visiting San Francisco looking for a tech-forward dining experience. At first, customers may visit to experience the magic of the digital store environment, but most return because they love our food, the convenience and the speed of service.”
“We implemented unique personalization into each element of the process, from the kiosk to displaying guests’ names on a large screen when their meal is ready. (That’s) followed by our visually engaging animations and interactive cubbies – all aspects of our process that were created to excite customers.” –eatsa CEO Tim Young
Convenience, speed and flavor act as magnets right along with the techy operational side of the brand, but Young said it’s not just tech for tech’s sake. Leaders work hard to build a customer experience that has a definite sense of personalized fun.
“A huge part of the eatsa experience is following your meal’s seamless journey from ordering at our kiosks to picking it up from our wall of cubbies,” he said of that kitchen-to-mouth journey. “We implemented unique personalization into each element of the process, from the kiosk to displaying guests’ names on a large screen when their meal is ready. (That’s) followed by our visually engaging animations and interactive cubbies – all aspects of our process that were created to excite customers.”
In fact, personalizing eatsa technology is critical to what the brand is about, and that means it has to be interactive, too. So, the brand’s in-store cubbies show unique visuals on each container’s screen to entertain them while they wait for their food. And diners can even double-tap their assigned cubbies to “magically” open the door when their meal appears inside.
“Whether it’s a customer’s first time or hundredth time visiting eatsa, we continually hear the word ‘magic’ when customers describe the experience. … ” Young said. “We especially enjoy watching guests take videos and photos of themselves picking up their orders from the cubbies and posting to social media. We believe if it’s worth a social media post, it’s definitely resonating with people in a fun way.”
But lest you think the eatsa experience is completely driven by machine, from start to finish, Young is quick to explain that there are human minds behind the machines when it comes to menu development.
“In everything we do, we ensure we’re creating technologies that help people,” he said. “The human element of our brand and technology is imperative! We have a small but mighty team of people who work on creating our menu and dreaming up new crave-able bowls. …
“Contrary to what many believe, we do have people making the food at eatsa. What’s different at eatsa is that they have tools and technology to optimize what they do and how they do it, so they can work efficiently to deliver meals lightning fast. … our back-of-house technology is instrumental in simplifying and expediting every step of food prep. Our back-of-house team members always know what ingredients go into an order, and when they need to restock something, for example. This certainly alleviates a lot of the stress often experienced in a fast-paced restaurant kitchen.”
The future of this chain, however, goes beyond the restaurant brand itself to making the platform that is eatsa one that can work for other brands. Wow Bao’s success is proof that the operational platform is applicable to other brands, and Young said they are extending that platform possibility to other brands.
“By partnering with established and emerging brands we are able to get the eatsa experience people love into more restaurants, faster,” Young said. “We’re working with a handful of other brands who will be launching similar eatsa-powered concepts early next year. We will also be showcasing some completely new front-of-house technology with a few of these partner brands.”
But the main thing that Young would like for restaurateurs to take away about this technology-driven brand is that despite the media’s attention to the technology, the goal behind the entire effort is focused squarely on the humans working with that technology.
“Automation isn’t about replacing jobs, it’s about creating happier employees,” he said. “Automating more repetitive aspects of restaurant employees’ roles frees up front-of-house team members for higher-touch customer engagement and makes food preparation more ergonomic, reducing the risk of work-related injuries as well as overall reduc(ing) stress on employees, leading to happier more engaged employees and less turnover.
“In an industry that sees upward of 70 percent turnover, we believe our technology will play a part in lessening many of the reasons people stay for such short tenures in restaurants.”