by Amanda Topper, Mintel

Wow Bao, an Asian fast casual concept, brought the first fully automated dining experience to Chicago on December 1. As identified in Mintel’s 2018 US Foodservice Trend ‘The Need for Speed,’ restaurants are streamlining operations and automating service to provide convenience and efficiency to consumers. One of the ways they are doing this is through mobile and on-site kiosk ordering. According to Mintel’s US report on dining out in 2018, 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.

1 in 5 diners plans to use mobile ordering for food more often in 2018.

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 you when your order is almost ready. Once ready, your name appears on an animated cubby window which is tapped to open and retrieve your order.


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.

The addition of a fully automated restaurant makes sense for Wow Bao. Its existing restaurants have long featured kiosks as an ordering method, and it also recently launched a delivery-only restaurant in Los Angeles. The small store footprint, limited number of employees and quick food preparation are all operational benefits that can keep costs down and revenues up. This technology also allows for seamless upselling and minimizes order inaccuracies and wait times. Wow Bao has plans to expand with additional fully automated units, and we expect to see eatsa license its technology to more restaurant brands in the future.

Consumers are likely to appreciate the efficiency of this technology, especially when combined with high quality food and beverage at an affordable price point. While the experience may be impersonal for some, there are still on-site concierges to engage with and help patrons, and maximize Wow Bao’s level of customer service.

Amanda Topper is the Associate Director of Foodservice Research, responsible for overseeing all of Mintel’s foodservice offerings, as well as providing insight and competitive analysis across scheduled deliverables, and client and industry presentations. She was previously a Senior Analyst specializing in the retail food industry.