Eatsa Removes Humans From Your Lunch Buying Experience

Trade in boring human interactions for stone-cold, robot-like efficiency.

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Dec 15 2016, 5:30pm

Image: Xavier Harding/Motherboard

We may not admit it, but we all appreciate the convenience of fast food. If McDonald's and Chipotle offer food quick, Eatsa wants to serve you meals at hyper speed. The restaurant, opening their first location Wednesday in New York City, removes humans almost entirely from the process of buying lunch. Food seekers walk in, tap a few selections, and go to the cubby they're assigned for a very 2016, quinoa-eating experience. Here's what it was like.

Stepping Into A Quinoa Future

Many have come to know Eatsa's store as one with little human contact as possible. But you wouldn't guess it by how many people are eager to greet you at the door. Four to six Eatsa workers helped me get to a kiosk where I could order my own food and go get it myself. Service.

Along with folks greeting me at the door, there were many Eatsa helpers around in case I ran into any hang-ups along the way. Spoiler alert: I ran into zero.

Image: Xavier Harding/Motherboard

Ordering Eatsa

Enough of those stupid humans, now the real action begins. Similar to other things you may buy from a robot, swiping your credit card begins the interaction. Upon swiping, the order menu appears and your name can be found at the bottom left of the screen — even if you've never ordered from Eatsa before. You'll be presented with various bowl options: hummus & falafel, burrito, bento or an "aloha" bowl (their island-style option).

After you've selected your bowl preference and compiled it exactly how you'd like, buyers have the option of getting a side and/or a beverage. If you're cooler than me and have ordered from Eatsa in the past, you can view your order history and select a previous meal. The ability to end the interaction altogether is hidden, but you can "log out" completely by tapping Get Assistance in the top right and ending things from there.

Those who've chosen to select a bowl can add and takeaway ingredients in the build section. Every type of food added food from pinto beans to grilled corn to the type of sauce involved can be removed and added at will. Which presents us with one of the drawbacks of ordering from a robot: there's no way to add ingredients that aren't offered as an option. You can mix it up, but only in predefined ways.

Image: Xavier Harding/Motherboard

Each bowl option has an "i" icon at the top where you can learn more about the food Eatsa's robotic system will serve you. Information here includes details about calories, fat, saturated fat, fiber, protein, sodium, sugars and carbohydrate levels. You also get readouts if the product contains dairy, gluten or eggs inside. This kind of info is available for what they call "bases" as well as sauces, veggies, cheeses and more.

Image: Xavier Harding/Motherboard

The Pick Up Area

The back of Eatsa is the most flashy section of the restaurant. Elementary school was probably the last time you interacted closely with a cubby, but Eatsa asks that you summon all that knowledge in an effort to scarf down expensive Midtown lunch. After putting in your order a television screen above the pickup area assigns you one of 20 compartments (I was cubby #6 for example). This is what it looks like when your food is being put into its cubby.

Image: Xavier Harding/Motherboard

And here's what you see when your food is ready for pickup.

Image: Xavier Harding/Motherboard

Each storage area has a transparent screen on it. The screen shows Eatsa ads and general info when not in use. When food is beginning to appear, the screen goes black followed by a green animation. Once this animation is complete you'll see your food behind the screen with your name right above it. I expect Eatsa diehards to make a Facebook cover photo out of their name on these see-through contraptions.

Double tapping the top right of the door opens your cubby and presents you with your meal. To the victor goes edible spoils.

"But I like at least some human interaction!"

And you'll get it. Eatsa's whole thing with this restaurant is that you can order your lunch, pick it up and leave without dealing with a single person. But there are plenty of people around to help out with your order or with anything else you may need. I honestly didn't miss the human interaction, and I especially wouldn't if I were headed to lunch with friends or had to grab-and-go something to eat quickly. Those worried about not dealing with a human during their lunch buying routine should be more worried about when this tech becomes better and then, inevitably, ubiquitous. That will be the real sad day for human interaction, but at least I can take my Facebook cover photo with minimal embarrassment.

New York City's Eatsa is located at 285 Madison avenue between 40th and 41st streets.