Restaurant Roundup: Brands Add Drive-Thru Lanes, Robotics


Since the start of the pandemic, a range of different brands have been adding drive-thru lanes, noting elevated demand for the ordering channel.

Now, fast-casual brand Smokey Bones, which has 62 locations across 16 states, announced Tuesday (June 21) that it would open its first drive-thru at a location in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Wednesday (June 22). The company is also offering its virtual brands at the drive-thru.

Read more: Sweetgreen to Open Drive-Thru Location

“Not only does a drive-thru lane address the way people are dining today with more to go orders, but it makes it faster, easier and more convenient for guests to enjoy Smokey Bones ‘anytime anywhere’ — our vision for Smokey Bones’ off-premise dining,” the brand’s CEO James O’Reilly said in a statement. “We believe drive-thru is a next generation initiative for casual dining and has the potential to redefine what ‘fast casual’ really means.”

Not only have brands been adding drive-thru lanes, but those that have existing drive-thrus have been rethinking their restaurants for today’s digitally shifted restaurant customer, adding mobile order pickup lanes. Most recently, Chick-fil-A announced a trial of mobile order express lanes.

See also: Chick-fil-A Joins in on Efficiency-Boosting Mobile Order Drive-Thru Lane Trend

Research from PYMNTS’ 2022 Restaurant Friction Index, created in collaboration with Paytronix, found that 35% of diners said they would be more inclined to purchase from restaurants that have drive-thru pickup capabilities. Additionally, the study’s survey of more than 500 restaurant managers found that about half of all restaurants offer the option.

Related news: New Data Shows Digital Loyalty Programs Are Key Differentiator for Top-Performing Restaurants

Conveyor Belt Sushi Chain Adds Robo-Servers

Tech-powered restaurant chain Kura Sushi, which has more than 500 locations around the world including 37 in the United States, is adding new automated devices to its restaurants. The conveyor belt sushi brand is introducing robotic servers, Kur-B the KuraBot, at all its U.S. restaurants, Restaurant Business reported Friday (June 24).

“We are continually looking for new developments to enrich the guest experience and are elated to be able to bring these new elements to our eater-tainment restaurants,” Hideto Sugimoto, Kura Sushi USA’s director of system and menu development, said in a statement.

The brand is also implementing tablets for consumers to order place their own drink orders and adding mobile payment options.

The move comes as restaurants face an extremely difficult labor market.

“Food service operators are very much struggling post-COVID. Margins were low before, they had hiring challenges before, but the post-COVID situation has just blown them out of the water,” Covahne Michaels, vice president of marketing at foodservice robotics company Blendid, told PYMNTS in an interview last month.

“We’re seeing left and right not only rising costs for them, but just such difficulty in hiring that many are shutting their hours shutting down their locations, and they’re just pulling their hair out [about] how they can make a decent living moving forward,” Michaels said.

For more: Restaurant Robotics Companies Face Learning Curve Bringing Tech to Market

Kura is far from the only restaurant brand to try out robotic servers. In March, Bear Robotics, a hospitality technology company that creates self-driving robotic waiters and bussers, announced that it had raised $81 million in its Series B funding round, bringing its total funding to $117 million. The company has partnered with Chili’s, Denny’s and other popular brands.

You may also like: Bear Robotics Announces $81M Series B as Restaurants Struggle to Meet Dining Demand  

Amid Continued Delivery Demand, Wings Brand Expands Internationally

In the past couple of years, demand for restaurant delivery has remained elevated even as consumers have returned to eateries’ dining rooms, leading to the strong performance of brands focused on delivery-friendly foods such as chicken wings.

A testament to this success, Addison, Texas-based fast-casual brand Wingstop announced Wednesday (June 22) that it has expanded to Canada with the opening of a location in Toronto.

“Our first restaurant opening in Canada is a proof point of Wingstop’s success and portability outside the United States, where our brand has experienced so much success,” Nicolas Boudet, president of international at Wingstop, said in a statement. “Wingstop’s ability to deliver an unparalleled guest and flavour experience gives us confidence in our brand’s potential in Canada.”

If United States diners’ habits are any indication, the share of consumers ordering restaurant delivery is on the rise, according to data from the May edition of PYMNTS’ ConnectedEconomy report, The ConnectedEconomy™ Monthly Report: The Brick-and-Mortar Economy Goes Digital.

Additional details: 19M More Consumers Went Online to Bank, Buy and Pay Bills in May 2022

The study, which drew from a census-balanced survey of more than 2,600 U.S. consumers about their digital habits, found that 43% of consumers had ordered from a restaurant delivery aggregator in April, up from 40% in February and March. Additionally, 56% reported that they had used a restaurant’s website or app to purchase meals for pickup or delivery, up from 52% in March.