The hospitality industry is always looking for ways to automate and entrepreneurs are beginning to push the boundaries when it comes to the role of technology in restaurants. Futuristic fast-food chain Eatsa out of San Francisco, a much talked about 2015 startup, put automation at the front and center by eliminating cashiers and servers and replacing them with kiosk ordering systems. In 2017, however, Eatsa the restaurant chain has scaled back, closing 5 of their 7 locations, in order to grow the technology side of the company. By taking a step back from their restaurants, Eatsa hopes to position themselves as a leader in restaurant technology. Illustrated by a post from their website, “We believe that partnering with established brands will allow us to get the Eatsa experience people love into more restaurants, faster.” Their new partnership with Chicago based Wow Bao, a Lettuce Entertain You concept, illustrates this strategy at work.
While Eatsa’s moves have made headlines, a new competitor has quietly opened up in the West Loop of Chicago. Sporting their own kiosk first design and proprietary software, Square Roots Kitchen (SRK) opened in February, 2018.
Much like Eatsa, when you walk in you are greeted by self-ordering tablets, cubbies for pickup, and another hot concept, cashless payment system. Rebelling against the robotic atmosphere and what some have called the impersonal feel of Eatsa’s design, SRK has opted to have an open kitchen, a design aspect that owner Derin Alemli put a lot of thought into. This approach he believes gives a warmer, more welcoming feel to this technology-forward restaurant. While both Eatsa and SRK are focused on speed, efficiency, and minimizing labor; SRK emphasizes customization and attention to special diets and allergies.
You may have previously seen notes on some menus that say “we politely decline your substitutions.” As a rule, restaurants hate customization. It slows down the kitchen and increases the chances of errors being made. SRK, on the other hand, has been built for customization. While there are house favorite menu items, making a custom salad, wrap, or bowl is encouraged and easily done through their ordering screen.
On the back end, each item is printed with an ingredient list, so workers can quickly and easily assemble the dishes. The label that guided the preparation, is then stuck to the container so patrons can see exactly what is in their meal, including the calorie information.
SRK is also emphasizing in-house delivery, avoiding third party delivery companies. To encourage group ordering their app allows offices or friends to share an order each paying separately but sharing the delivery cost.
Everyday seems to bring newer innovations into restaurant technology. It will be interesting to see where the Eatsa, SRK, and countless future competitors fall into this changing landscape.