Of all the industries in need of disrupting, food service doesn’t seem to be particularly high on the list. The practice of visiting a restaurant and paying another human to bring you your food is as old and reliable as time itself, and a few minor inconveniences aside—a wrong order here, a lengthy wait there—this long-standing transaction generally benefits all parties involved. Did your waiter deliver your desired meal in a timely fashion and with a winning smile? Great! Now leave a handsome tip so you can both go on living.
So why are some restaurants toying with the idea of eliminating waiters altogether in favor of automat technology? Oh yeah, right: Because you don’t have to pay robots.
When Wow Bao, a fast-casual Asian chain, opens its newest location in Chicago on December 1, it’ll be the first chain to adopt the potentially revolutionary ordering technology developed by Eatsa, a San Francisco restaurant where customers order quinoa bowls through iPads and retrieve their food in shiny glass cubby compartments, with zero human interaction in the process. The move was reported by Restaurant Business.
Wow Bao’s decision to tap the tech is somewhat surprising, given that Eatsa recently closed its five non-San Francisco restaurants, including outposts in New York and Washington, D.C., last month. “We hope that with fewer locations, we can experiment and innovate faster, and resume our retail expansion in the future,” the restaurant’s reps write on their website. Downsizing, they say, will help them team with other eateries to use their platform. “We believe that partnering with established brands will allow us to get the Eatsa experience people love into more restaurants, faster.”
In addition to the closings, Eatsa has predictably faced criticism from service workers, and has also been accused of discriminating against vision-impaired customers. But despite the red flags, Wow Bao is more than happy to enter the Eatsa fray. “This is going to the change the way people dine,” Wow Bao president Geoff Alexander told Restaurant Business.
Also intrigued: Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder, who was Donald Trump’s first choice to serve as Secretary of Labor, but withdrew when he couldn’t score enough votes to be confirmed. (Sad!) Puzder, who has made no secret of his love for automation and disdain for raising the minimum wage, has visited Eatsa and likes what he sees.
As he told Business Insider last year, robots are better than hard-working humans because “they’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” Puzder also proclaimed that Eatsa’s technology is the future because “Millennials like not seeing people.” Ah, yes: If anyone knows Millennials, it’s a 67-year-old multimillionaire.
Perhaps robots aren’t coming to your friendly neighborhood eatery tomorrow, but if more and more restaurants follow Wow Bao’s lead, it may only be a matter of time. And if you think your industry is safe from the bleep-bloops, well, we’ve got some bad news.