Restaurant Brands Step up Automation Efforts

Restaurant Roundup: Robots Take Over Kitchens

Chipotle Steps up Test of Robo-Kitchen Assistant

Fast-casual brand Chipotle Mexican Grill is proceeding with its test of robotic kitchen assistants created by Miso Robotics to automate the process of making tortilla chips. The company announced Tuesday (Sept. 27) that it has moved into the next phase of testing, with the technology to go live at a restaurant in Fountain Valley, California, in October.

The news comes as many restaurants continue to struggle with hiring and retention, hampering their ability to meet consumer demand.

“We are always exploring opportunities to enhance our employee and guest experience,” Chipotle Chief Technology Officer Curt Garner said in a statement at the time of the announcement of the first phase back in March. “Our goal is to drive efficiencies through collaborative robotics that will enable Chipotle’s crew members to focus on other tasks in the restaurant.”

Read more: Chipotle Tests Autonomous Kitchen Assistant

Pizza Hut Canada Tests Autonomous Delivery

In Canada, Pizza Hut is automating the delivery process. The Canadian arm of the pizza chain, which has 500 locations across the Great White North, announced Monday (Sept. 26) that it is partnering with autonomous sidewalk delivery robot company Serve Robotics for a two-week pilot test in Vancouver.

“From introducing cheese in our stuffed crust to delivering pizza to the International Space Station, Pizza Hut is the pizza pioneer,” Pizza Hut Canada Director of Operations Manish Dhankher said in a statement. “…Pizza Hut is thrilled to be at the forefront of this technology and partner with Serve Robotics to bring this offering to Canada for the first time.”

The news comes as restaurants and delivery services alike grapple with challenges around the labor economics of food delivery. Robotic solutions such as these, if tests prove successful, could help restaurants meet consumers’ desire for on-demand delivery without it taking a prohibitive toll on profits.

Charleys Tests Drone Delivery

In additional robotic delivery news, Charleys Philly Steaks, a cheesesteak chain with more than 700 locations across 17 countries, announced Wednesday (Sept. 28) a partnership with drone delivery company Flytrex. The brand is delivering cheesesteaks ordered through the latter’s app via drone in Durham, North Carolina, to consumers’ front- or backyards.

“The future of delivery is here, and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Charleys Chief Marketing Officer Brian Hipsher in a statement. “I can think of no better way to receive a fresh cheesesteak delivered hot off the grill to my front yard. We look forward to expanding our partnership with Flytrex to create a more cost effective and quick delivery service for all our guests.”

Cracker Barrel Gears up for Loyalty Launch

After holding out on rewards offerings all this time, restaurant and gift store chain Cracker Barrel, which has more than 660 locations across the United States, is finally getting ready to launch a loyalty program.

“We will be highly focused on developing and rolling out our loyalty program, which … should be particularly impactful for our brand with our strong guest engagement, travel guest and restaurant and retail offerings,” Cracker Barrel CEO Sandy Cochran told analysts on a call Tuesday discussing the chain’s fourth-quarter 2022 earnings results.

Certainly, loyalty programs are a key tool for restaurants looking to drive frequency and outperform competitors. According to data from PYMNTS’ February/March study “Digital Divide: Restaurant Subscribers and Loyalty Programs,” which drew from a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults who regularly buy food from restaurants, 44% of consumers use loyalty programs at full-service restaurants (FSRs).

Read more: Four in 10 Consumers Open to Restaurant Subscription Services

As loyalty programs increasingly become table stakes for major restaurant brands, Cracker Barrel stands out for not yet having rolled out its own. Yet, it is expected to finally arrive within the next three months.

“We are taking the time to get [our loyalty program] right as we believe the program needs to be compelling and well-developed before we launch it,” said Cochran. “The back-end integration and other requirements are critical, and we anticipate an initial launch by the end of the year.”