There’s a story over at the New York Times about a new business in San Francisco, Eatsa, that’s like an old-fashioned automat: “[a]t this restaurant, customers order, pay and receive their food and never interact with a person.”
(The story’s somewhat puzzling because reporter Claire Cain Miller never mentions that America once had many establishments like this, including the Horn& Hardart chain. Not identical, of course, but very close in character.)
I’m not sure that automats, let alone an even less-personal one like Eatsa, should be called restaurants. They’re more like grocery stores to me. Even a fast-food restaurant takes orders, but in Eatsa, there’s no order-taker, just as there wasn’t in an automat. One selects one’s own, brings it to a cashier, or in the new version even pays without a cashier.
That’s akin to a grocery store or a vending machine.
There may be times when that’s convenient, and efficient, but without any human service, even in taking one’s request, I wouldn’t think of Eatsa as a restaurant.
It’s more like a vending machine with a roof.