Mobile ordering is something of a catch-22 right now for restaurants. It’s practically imperative to serve the growing demand for more delivery, takeout, and curbside orders. But those businesses who do accommodate mobile orders find themselves in an operational nightmare on a daily basis, whether it’s finding space for the dozen tablets from third parties, figuring out how to integrate mobile orders with the in-house POS, or simply staving off overcrowding in the front of house as customers and Grubhub drivers alike wait in line to pick up their orders.
“Every brand we talk to is struggling with how [mobile] growth doesn’t fit within their current operational model,” says Eatsa’s CEO, Tim Young. And while his company’s overall end-to-end tech system is designed to alleviate chaos in general, the company’s latest offering, the Spotlight Pickup System, is aimed specifically at the front of house.
The modular system, which launched last week, is part of Eatsa’s end-to-end system and, physically, can live pretty much anywhere in the restaurant. According to Young, one of the key selling points is that with Spotlight, restaurants don’t have to physically alter anything in order to accommodate mobile orders. “One of the fundamental things we focus on is making this easy to bring into your existing restaurant with no friction,” he says.
So instead of installing a wall of cubbies, which has been Eatsa’s offering to-date, restaurants using the Spotlight Pickup System can stack together individual automated surfaces called “spots.” Each unit (see picture above) is a little less than a foot long; put together, these units look much like a bookshelf and can be easily hung on some empty wall space or set on unused countertops. Restaurants choose the number of “spots” they need based on the volume of to-go orders. A large operation might have 20 spots; smaller businesses may need only three.
The spots are equipped with sensors that know things like when a spot opens up or how long food has been sitting on a spot. When an order is ready, the system will tell the restaurant staff which spot to place the order on. Meanwhile, the customer, or driver, or whoever is picking up the food can walk into the restaurant, find their name on the digital menu board, and grab the food from the corresponding spot.
For restaurants, the obvious benefit here is less crowding in the front of house. Since all orders are placed via mobile, and digital display boards clearly state the customer’s location and spot number, there will be (in theory, at least), fewer people waiting in line or hanging around to ask where they pick up their order.
Another benefit, according to Young, is the potential for integrating branding with the product. Restaurants can customize a digital message on the front of the spots, and even change the background to match the overall restaurant design and colors.
Young indicates that the Spotlight system isn’t so much an improvement over Eatsa’s cubby system as it is a different option for restaurants. “We tried to make both systems really branded and fun and magical so it’s not just a lifeless fixture,” he says. “What it really comes down to is, what is your space like, what are you trying to accomplish? And that really just comes down to the choice of the brand.”
Currently, Eatsa is testing the Spotlight system at three different restaurants, all of whom have partnered with the company in the past: MAC’D in San Francisco, Evergreens in Seattle, and Wao Bao in Chicago.