A fully automated restaurant just opened in New York City (114 years after the last automated restaurant opened)

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

I’m a little too young to remember the boom days of Horn & Hardart, but my grandfather loved it. As far back as 1902, the New York and Philly restaurant chain, known as an “Automat,” was the place to go to get a piece of apple pie, a pre-packaged sandwich or “home-cooked” meal delivered through its patented vending machines.

History is now repeating itself. Today’s version of the Automat is called Eatsa, which opened its first outlet in New York City last week. (There already is one in D.C.)

Motherboard’s Xavier Harding tried out the New York shop – and seemed to enjoy the experience.

Eatsa strives for self-service. You begin the interaction by swiping your credit card on a touch screen kiosk. You then choose from a variety of (vegetarian) bowls and then build to your own liking by selecting extra ingredients like pinto beans or grilled corn. Of course there’s lots of nutritional information, like calories and carbohydrate levels, provided with each selection because this is 2016 and we need to know this stuff.

After completing your order, you check the big board to find out your assigned window.  Then you go get your food from a Horn & Hardart’s-like window compartment, except today it’s got a flashy video screen that entertains you with cool animation and fun colors before – presto! – your food magically appears behind it. A quick double-tap raises the door so you can get your grub. It’s all so cool. So…1902?

In case you’re worried about the loss of jobs brought on by self-service restaurants, know that Eatsa still employs plenty of humans. Harding did note an ample of number of helpers who greeted and helped him through the ordering and pickup process. There were others behind the scenes doing the food prep too. Even so, Harding lamented the potential future lack of human interaction. “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,” he wrote.

As we’ve learned from Horn & Hardarts, automated, self-service restaurants like Eatsa (and convenience chains like Wawa and Sheetz) are certainly not new.  But the technology should enable future entrepreneurs to deliver a quality service with lower overhead – if they can figure out the right balance of people and machines.


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