Food and drink

DC’s eatsa offers a uniquely pleasant dining experience (thanks to robots)

The California-based chain is providing an automated twist to traditional fast-casual. Here's our review.

From Seamless to Amazon Go, technology is rapidly changing how we eat. D.C.’s latest tech-forward eatery, eatsa, is no exception. Founded in 2015 in San Francisco, the all-vegetarian, quinoa-centric chain integrates automation technology into its operations.

I stopped by one of their two freshly minted D.C. locations to see what they had to offer. Upon entering the modestly sized downtown location, I marveled at its futuristic layout. Barring one friendly assistant, there are no employees in sight. (A manager confirmed that “around five” behind-the-scenes chefs usually work during peak times.) A row of classy wood-finished, self-service kiosks flanks the space. The front of the store sports a sleek array of cubicles where one picks up their order.

Accurately reading my confused demeanor, the assistant walked me through the ordering process. After swiping your credit card, you are welcomed with an extensive, highly customizable menu. I treated myself to the “southwest scramble” — a delicious mélange of quinoa, eggs, salsa and guacamole. Within a few minutes, I heard a friendly “ding” and my name appeared on one of the cubicles with my bowl inside. “Tap twice to open,” the cubicle door exclaimed, and in doing so I was one step closer to quinoa-fueled bliss.

The author's food unit. (Photo by Agastya Mondal) 

The author’s food unit. (Photo by Agastya Mondal)

Bowl in hand, I bid goodbye to the kind assistant and thought about this novel experience. To date, I have not had a more streamlined breakfast; I was out the door within 10 minutes of my arrival. The food itself was delicious and fresh.

On the other hand, the distinct lack of social interaction was jarring. I am so accustomed to small talk in my daily routine that removing such an ingrained process left me feeling a bit lost. Though deep social interactions generally do not occur at fast food restaurants, eatsa’s model certainly underscores the millennial lust for all things on-the-go. Eatsa appeals to those who no longer view lunch as a 60-minute escape from the office. Nonetheless, eatsa is a welcome addition to a city itching for technological innovation. Within minutes (including the time it takes to send a picture to your friends), the restaurant allows you to satiate your hunger and head back to the office. From self-driving cars to vegetarian eateries, automation is bound to pose difficult questions. For now however, the best we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride — and the quinoa.

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