Digital-Era Automat: Gimmicks Galore

May 25, 2016By Heidi EllisonArchive, Restaurants



The dining room at Za.It sounds like tons of fun. You take a seat at one of the long tables at the new restaurant Za (design by Philippe Starck; seats 128!), under the just-inaugurated new roof (called “La Canopé”) over the renovated Forum des Halles in the heart of Paris and slap your smartphone down on the numbered spot on the countertop in front of you.

After ordering your meal from and paying on the restaurant’s app, your food comes zipping


along a conveyor belt on a tray and makes a military-smart stop right in front of you. It’s like an edible Uber.

While you’re waiting for your food, you can also order a book to be printed in about five minutes on the robot printer (looks like an enormous Xerox machine) near the windows of this enormous “urban literary café.”

That’s the way it’s supposed to happen. The reality is that you need an employee to come over and show you how it works, get you on the Wi-Fi network, and explain the confusing menu. The names of all the dishes have been changed to start with Z, to go with the restaurant’s name (e.g., “zomelette” instead of “omelette,“zalade“ for “salade,” etc.), and what’s included in each set menu is not clear. More explanations are required from the helpful and friendly staff, especially if you don’t speak French, the only language the app is available in.

As for the books, I could find only nine listed on the app, all in French. Presumably more will be added, but for the moment, don’t expect a wealth of choices.

And the food? The selection here is also limited: a couple of unappetizing burrito-shaped omelettes, which (appropriately in this


new-style automat) look as if they were spat out of a machine; a zoupe of the day; and a few salads and open-faced sandwiches (“zartines”). The biggest hits among our group were the endive, apple and blue-cheese salad; the roast-beef zartine and the marinated-salmon



zartine (when we asked for a lemon slice to go with the latter, we were told there were none); and the rose-flavored panna cotta for dessert. The ingredients were of impressive quality, but the limited selection and such touches as salt and pepper in little paper packets made it feel like an upscale McDonald’s.

If the food were more interesting and varied, I would go back to Za, but as it stands, I feel I’ve been there, done that gimmick.

Reader Anika Savage writes: “I agree with your well-written article. I was excited to go there but considerably disappointed in the experience (which required near-constant human attention), the limited and confusing selection, and the poor quality of the food. With so many good restaurant options to choose from, one goes to Za for the novelty, and the novelty wore off pretty quickly.”


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