Era of ‘fully automated dining experiences’ getting closer

Nearly one in five diners plans to use mobile ordering for food more often in the coming year, while one in seven want to see more kiosk ordering options in 2018, a Mintel study in the US has revealed.

A number of US operators are blazing a trail with “fully automated dining experiences” designed to provide convenience and efficiency to consumers.

And with US foodservice trends renowned for catching on in the UK, onlookers will be watching carefully to see how this area of the market develops over the next 12 months.

Mintel notes that Wow Bao, an Asian fast casual concept, brought its first fully automated dining experience to Chicago last month.

eatsa, another fast casual concept that first opened in 2015, was the first to develop fully automated storefront technology and Wow Bao will be the first brand to license this technology. While eatsa recently downsized its operations by closing five of its seven restaurants, its current focus is on expanding its proprietary technology to other brands to improve restaurant operations and experience.

What makes eatsa’s technology unique is its completely automated approach. Customers can place and pick up an order without interacting with a human employee.

However, on-site “concierges” are available to help with any questions about the ordering process. Each order is placed via Wow Bao’s mobile app or an on-site kiosk, and customer names are displayed on a screen to alert customers when their order is almost ready.

Once ready, their name appears on an animated cubby window which the customer can then tap to open and retrieve their order.

Mintel says that in general,there continues to be growth in kiosk ordering as the only on-site ordering option.

In October, Shake Shack opened its first fully automated restaurant in New York with digital kiosks. Forum 55, a food hall in Chicago, opened in the same month with kiosks allowing diners to order from one of ten food vendors. Honeygrow, the stir-fry fast casual, only accepts on-site orders via digital kiosks.

Mintel notes that Wow Bao has plans to expand with additional fully automated units, and it expects to see eatsa license its technology to more restaurant brands in the future.

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