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OM in the News: A Restaurant Without Servers, Registers or Visible Cooks

September 14, 2015
Eatsa is aiming for a more efficient and less expensive experience like the automats found in Japan and Europe (and like the old Horn & Hardart automats in NYC, which closed in 1991).

Eatsa is aiming for a more efficient and less expensive experience like the automats found in Japan and Europe (and like the old Horn & Hardart automats in NYC, which closed in 1991).

There’s a new quinoa restaurant in San Francisco, one where customers order, pay and receive their food and never interact with a person, writes The New York Times (Sept. 9, 2015). The restaurant, Eatsa, the first outlet in a company with national ambitions, is almost fully automated. There are no waiters or even an order taker behind a counter. There is no counter. There are unseen people helping to prepare the food, but there are plans to fully automate that process, too, if it can be done less expensively than employing people. Whether a restaurant that employs few people is good for the economy is another question. Restaurants have traditionally been a place where low-skilled workers can find employment.

Automation is transforming every industry. Business owners look to substitute machines for human labor. It happened to blue-collar workers in factories and white-collar workers in banks and even law firms. With self-driving vehicles, it may happen in the taxi and trucking industries. Robots are expected to transform health care. Automation is already part of many restaurants. Reservations are made online, orders arrive at the kitchen electronically, and bills are paid with a swipe on an iPad. Chains like Chili’s use tablet computers for ordering and paying, to speed the process and cut personnel costs.

Eatsa is one more example of how rapidly machines have moved beyond routine jobs like clerical and manufacturing work to knowledge jobs and service jobs — like waiting tables.  “The objective is over time we want to automate more and more to increase speed and reduce cost, so we create a food product that’s much cheaper and also happens to be healthy,” said the founder. “By not hiring people to work in the front of the restaurant,” he said, “they save money on payroll and real estate.”

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of Eatsa‘s approach?
  2. What technologies do other restaurants use already?
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