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Eatsa Evolves To Take A “Wow” Bao

A few weeks back, I wrote about a significant retrenching of the eatsa business, which involved the closing of their New York restaurants and retrenching back to their San Francisco units. At the same time, the company announced that technology would begin to appear as an end to end platform in other restaurants soon.

In many of these announcements, the second part is really nothing more than a graceful way to mask some painful news. Not so in eatsa’s case.

Opening on December 1, Wow Bao, a fast-casual restaurant concept in Chicago specializing in buns, dumplings, and rice and noodle bowls, is using the eatsa platform as the foundation for a new, automated restaurant experience. Wow Bao plans to roll out additional eatsa-enabled locations in 2018.

In a discussion with Tim Young, CEO of eatsa, he described this evolution of the eatsa brand from a restaurant concept to an end to end technology platform. Tim suggests that the biggest challenge is “where to focus growth and apply effort”. Running a day to day restaurant operation in four, geographically remote markets challenged the resources of a start-up and led to the key question—is eatsa a restaurant chain or great technology?

From the onset of the opening, the company has been deluged with requests to potentially license the technology and finally decided to take those requests seriously. The conversation with Wow Bao went from a first sit down to a restaurant opening in an incredible 90 days!

While a consumer may be dazzled by the front end technology and the cool cubby holes that deliver product, eatsa has been working on “disrupting the entire experience, from ordering to production” according to Tim.

In eatsa restaurants, this technology has “enabled us to get meals to customers in 90 seconds versus the industry average of five minutes or more, and drive up to five times the customer throughput than the average fast casual restaurant – translating into over 500 customers per hour”. And, this is all done with a higher degree of order accuracy and customization.

The key components of the eatsa platform include:

  • Ordering across multiple channels, including in-store kiosks and a custom-branded, fully integrated mobile experience. In the San Francisco stores, mobile now accounts for over 40% of all orders in one unit.
  • Customizable in-store digital displays and canvases
  • Order fulfillment tools that optimize labor for speed and accuracy
  • Remote management of digital marketing and menus
  • Robust customer and store-level analytics. As a customer, I have been impressed with eatsa’s ability to immediately solicit real time feedback and satisfaction.

While Wow Bao is the first deployment, the company suggests more deals are in the pipeline and to expect to hear and see more in 2018.

Of course, eatsa would not be the first company to pivot from a retail concept to technology platform. I am reminded of Hointer, which has tried to take a similar path. In eatsa’s case, I believe the technology is strong and robust enough for them to make this leap. This is an exciting evolution in automated technology. I expect many other brands could follow the same path soon.

Neil Stern for Forbes


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