Food / The London Economic

Are Robot Servers The Food Industry’s Next Big Thing?

Back To The Future

By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food

Way back in 1989, Robert Zemeckis’ classic cult Sci-Fi blockbuster – ‘Back To The Future 2′ – predicted that 2015 would behold all sorts of outrageous, futuristic contraptions most probably designed by an outrageous (evidently very prolific) scientist with dreams that even the most brainy of scholars would struggle to conceive. Many of those predictions of 2015 did, in fact, come true. Self-lacing Trainers and actual Hover Boards have been invented (although just for the super rich, at the moment), and we also have wall-mounted, flat-screen TVs as well as the concept of video conferencing and remote control-free video games. It’s still, unsurprisingly, unacceptable to wear two neckties at once and we do still need roads; flying cars haven’t managed to fill the streets, zooming past our upstairs windows just yet. But one thing Zemeckis got bang on is the use of Robots within restaurants (remember the scene that features a Diner with a video simulacrum of Michael Jackson talking through the daily specials?) which have been introduced at Californian eatery eatsa.

Having just opened its first outpost in Downtown San Francisco there’s a strong focus on efficiency within the business set up by Tim Young and Scott Drummond with automated machines set to replace cashiers, allowing orders to be placed through an iPad-like screen using electronic payments (cash is too old fashioned) before being delivered into a cubby-hole, all within two minutes. There will be a Concierge on board to help out, as well as a small team within the kitchen to prepare the dishes behind the scenes. But apart from those select few, there will be no official in-house employees. As for the menu, the star is Quinoa – a complete protein that’s filled with necessary amino acids, as well as being cholesterol and Gluten-free. Limited to eight bowls, including a Smokehouse Salad, a Harvest Bowl and a No Worry Curry, each of which are all vegetarian and listed with their ingredients, allergens and calorie intake, priced at a reasonable sum of $6.95 each.

Admittedly the food does sound very good, but isn’t the concept of having no servers a little too ‘1984’? Perhaps eatsa would be the ideal location for the socially inept, solo diners and those who’ve just had enough of stroppy wait service, but great service can make a mediocre meal great, even an unforgiving takeaway served with a smile can be pivotal towards further enjoyment. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but don’t we already spend enough time devout of human interaction, choosing to stare into illuminated screens as social norms disintegrate even further? And think of the employees, if every restaurant were to follow in the footsteps of San Francisco’s new automated-café, the already dismal unemployment rate would become even more disastrous. What if we were to just put all of our faith in Robots from now on? There are only so many times that a man can retain his sanity whilst being ordered to “place the item in the bagging area”.

As of yet, eatsa hasn’t announced any plans to cross the Atlantic, although talks of further Bay Area offshoots are taking place. The whole ethos behind eatsa’s marriage of great, sustainable food and efficiency is commendable, but is replacing cashiers completely, in favour of machines really the best of ideas?

Let’s just hope that eatsa refrain from the discretionary (read: compulsory) ‘service charge’, similar to the likes British Restaurant chain Coté, which is evidently devoid of the serving staff’s pockets. But that’s a whole different story, best saved for another day.

The original article can be found online at

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