Popular, two-year-old automat-style eatery Eatsa, where meals are ordered via smartphone or touchscreen kiosks, is now being served with a class-action lawsuit arguing that the ordering system and food retrieval process discriminates against blind people. The national nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed the federal suit Thursday, as the Chronicle first reported, stating that Eatsa's signature ordering system "rel[ies] on exclusively visual displays and do not provide any form of audio output or tactile input, [and therefore] Eatsa’s design is entirely inaccessible to blind customers."
Eatsa's seven national locations two each in San Francisco, New York, and D.C., and one in Berkeley reimagined the 1950's automat with modern technology and healthy quinoa bowls and salads, allowing online orders via smartphone app and a quick pickup process involving locked, windowed cubbies that are unlocked with the app. Customers can also place orders at each location via touchscreen kiosks, with only one attendant manning the front of the store, and workers preparing the food behind the scenes.
That one attendant, Eatsa contends, is there to help anyone needing assistance, including the visually impaired. In a statement, Eatsa responded to the lawsuit saying,
We are surprised by this action by DRA. We are strong supporters of the rights of the visually impaired and have served many visually impaired customers since we opened our first eatsa in 2015. In fact, every eatsa location is staffed with Hosts that provide personalized ordering and pickup assistance to visually impaired customers, should they desire additional assistance, and all of our technology is designed to be compatible with the appropriate assistance features. We regret that the DRA did not spend time with eatsa's staff before taking legal action and hope to bring them satisfaction through a more detailed demonstration and understanding of our service. We truly think there is some error in their understanding of the eatsa technology and service and look forward to working through this amicably so we can continue providing a great service to all of our customers.
But DRA says the need for an attendant's help "denies blind customers the ability to independently access Eatsa restaurants."
Apparently because of the lawsuit, all three Bay Area locations are now closed, according to the website, "as we prepare for the new launch." The Chronicle reports that signs at the SF locations referred to "rebooting," and telling customers "get ready to meet a whole new Eatsa soon."
Eatsa has grown quickly since its SF debut, in Rincon Center, in the summer of 2015. It quickly drew lines as well as positive reviews for its food, expanding with a second Financial District location, followed by five more in the last 18 months. An announcement in late 2015 about an expansion to Los Angeles, however, has not yet borne fruit. Or quinoa, as it were.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York against parent company Keenwawa Inc.