Recently, Eatsa—the innovative quick service concept with no cashiers—announced that it was shutting all but two of its locations. While the company claims that it expanded too quickly into multiple markets without understanding the specific needs of each, critics have been just as quick to claim that humans just don’t have the appetite for the company’s “robo” culture. In reality, neither are wrong, but neither are actually right either.
To start, Eatsa may well have expanded too fast without gathering the necessary intelligence to meet market demand. What’s more likely is that it had less to do with the menu and a lot more to do with the experience. After all, quinoa has been one of the hottest food trends for a few years now.
Importance of Perception
What the critics get wrong is the same thing behind Eatsa’s struggle to build momentum: perception. Unfortunately for the company, many people have the impression that the restaurant is all machines and no personality, very similar to this reviewer’s initial thoughts. She later concludes that her pre-conceived idea of the restaurant was entirely wrong, and that’s something that the brand actually has to reconcile.
The challenge for the restaurant here is that perception doesn’t change unless someone actually takes the opportunity to try the experience. As it turns out, Eatsa doesn’t have cashiers, but they do have front of house employees, and the function of those employees is to ensure that customers have the best experience possible.
Self-Service Technology Under the Magnifying Glass
There’s been a lot of fear mongering around the growth of self-service technology—especially kiosks. How many headlines have there been claiming that robots are taking jobs away from humans? However, even if that is the future, it’s a long way off. How do we know? Human perception. The false perception that Eatsa was devoid of human interaction was enough to sink the current iteration of the brand, even in markets arguably full of tech-savvy consumers that might actually prefer self-service options.
One important element that often gets left out of the conversation around how self-service technology impacts the future is that it’s just one element of a successful operation. Service industry workers aren’t going to be a mass casualty of the self-service revolution as the critic mentioned at the top theorized, unless as culture, we only see front of house employee value as purely transactional.
It’s no secret that the mechanical repetition associated with being a cashier is a thankless job with high turnover. That’s not good for the employee, and the resources it takes to recruit, hire, and train each replacement certainly isn’t helping the employer.
Another factor to consider: according to a recent jobs report, many food establishments in the US are experiencing higher turnover as a result of the labor market having more options in better paying jobs. What happens to businesses that are fully invested in cheap labor, but can’t find it? For those businesses, the future might start to look a little bleak if they don’t prepare for the inevitable.
By engaging customers more meaningfully, establishments are far more likely to leave a lasting impression with their guests at a time when an industry glut of food establishments is leaving brands struggling to be noticed, much less remembered.
Brands that are successfully incorporating self-service technology into their operations understand that front of house employees can enhance the customer experience and maximize both technical and labor resources, ultimately providing a little more actual service—even to quick service establishments.