Editor's note: This is part 1 in a two-part series on how Eatsa is changing the fast casual industry via technology. Part 2 will give an in-depth look into Wow Bao, the first brand to use Eatsa technology.
Eatsa, a fast casual concept specializing in quinoa bowls, has been struggling with its identity since opening its first restaurant two years ago in San Francisco. With a focus on technology and a goal of changing the fast food industry, Eatsa has always walked the line between restaurant brand and technology company.
|Tim Young wants to revolutionize fast food and fast casual.|
"Our long-term goal is to revolutionize fast food/fast casual and bring our platform to really change how it operates," CEO Tim Young said in a recent interview. "How could we change the fast food/fast casual restaurant experience, as well as the operations?"
A tech-savvy operations model
Eatsa developed technology to not only allow customers to place their orders at self-serve kiosks or via mobile apps, but they also pay and pick up their food from wall-mounted compartments with digital displays that alert them to the status of their orders.
Little to no employee interaction is necessary.
One challenge that technology solutions often face, however, is gaining credibility. One way to accomplish this was to actually run a restaurant.
Hence, Eatsa launched its own restaurants using its unique technology.
After opening its first restaurant, the company expanded its restaurants featuring its technology to Washington, D.C. and New York City.
A unique concept
At first glance, it may look as if the only unique part of the Eastsa system is the pick-up cubbies, but
|Wow Bao became the first restaurant licensed to use Eatsa's technology in its new Chicago restaurant.|
Young maintains there is more to the system than the obvious.
"We're managing the entire process behind the scenes," he said. "There are systems back there that are guiding that flow. It's because of that that we're able to give very precise projections of when food will be ready down to the minute."
"Most of them (customers) were craving a better mobile experience and a more seamless experience," he said. "What you end up having is this ability to order, get a very precise time as to when your food will be ready — not a 15-minute window or something like that — but literally, your food will be ready at 12:47."
"It's this seamless, directed precise, fast experience that is really the differentiator in my mind," he said. "How fast it is and how reliable it is from a timing perspective."
Once the customer places the order, it appears on a screen in the kitchen.
The average order fulfillment time is less than 90 seconds, while often filling more than 400 orders per hour.
"The ability to process that many customers per hour, to serve that many people while also keeping it fast is unfounded," he said. "It's not something you see elsewhere."
A new direction
In every market, the concept met with success, Young said. However, the company has decided to scale back its restaurant business and focus on licensing the technology.
Eatsa recently announced it was closing five of seven of its locations, including units in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, California.
Young said the company shifted its strategy after extensive research, interviewing its own customers as well as restaurants that expressed interest in using its technology. The company was deluged with requests from foodservice operators interested in using the technology — which includes software, kiosks, cubbies and LED digital display screens — from the day it opened its first restaurant.
"We see it (focusing on licensing) as a much faster path for growth for getting our product out there," he said. "We had to refocus where we were spending our time." The company wanted to focus more on engaging with licensees than on running restaurants.
"In each of those states, we found people responded really positively," Young said. However, "Running restaurants in multiple markets is challenging."
A new partnership
Wow Bao, a fast casual chain, recently became Eatsa's first licensee with the opening of its latest restaurant in Chicago.
“We're evolving on a scale that no one else is," said Geoff Alexander, president of Wow Bao. "That’s the first thing it does for us. The second thing is that it allows the consumer a new way of experiencing the restaurant industry."
Additional restaurant partners will be introduced in the first or second quarter of 2018, Young said.
In bringing on a restaurant partner, Eatsa learns the brand's menu, how its order flow works, what is presented to the customer, how the information is presented and any unique needs the company has.
Young did not wish to share information on return on investment for the system.
More to come
Meanwhile, new features are under consideration. The company, for example, is incorporating features to make its kiosks more accessible to blind patrons.
The platform does not presently include inventory management, Young said, but inventory management tools can be integrated.
Cash acceptance is also being considered, although Young does not think it will be added. There have not been requests for cash.
"I don't expect we'll end up going there," he said. "The industry is pretty bullish on the movement to credit cards."
Although Eatsa's restaurants do not offer delivery, its restaurant partners can offer it if they want.
Going forward, Young continues to ask himself the question he raised at the start of the company: "How can we innovate on both the experience side and the operations side?"
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.