Restaurants Shift Their Tech Focus From Consumer Experience to Operational Efficiency

Restaurants Shift Focus to Operational Efficiency

For much of 2020 and 2021, restaurants’ efforts to bring digital technology into the in-store experience were centered on improving the experience for consumers. Now, with labor difficulties making it so that restaurants struggle to satisfy even the existing demand, many brands are turning their technological focus to bringing greater efficiency to their day-to-day operations.

In the past week, multiple reports have revealed that major casual dining chain Chili’s Grill & Bar is rolling out its test of Bear Robotics’ server robot, which the restaurant brand has dubbed “Rita,” to 51 additional locations.

In an interview earlier in the month with PYMNTS, Wade Allen, senior vice president and head of innovation at Chili’s parent company Brinker International, discussed the centrality of automation to the company’s tech strategy.

“We need automation on all fronts, whether it’s in the kitchen or in the dining room or through delivery, so it is the heartbeat — the Genesis, if you will — of everything that we do in the innovation department,” he said.

Read more: Chili Parent Brinker International Says Automation Is the ‘Heartbeat’ of Innovation

Additionally, foodservice industry Robots-as-a-Service company Miso Robotics’ announced Tuesday (April 12) that bakery-café chain Panera Bread is testing its CookRight Coffee system to monitor its coffee.

See more: Panera Bread Leverages Automation

Moreover, restaurants are not only leveraging automation to check on their menu items but also to prepare them. For instance, last month, Chipotle announced a test of another Miso system, an artificial intelligence (AI) autonomous kitchen assistant dubbed “Chippy” that prepares tortilla chips according to the brand’s recipe.

Read more: Chipotle Tests Autonomous Kitchen Assistant

Certainly, automation is top of mind for many restaurants. Research from  the January issue of The Main Street Merchant Index™ (MSI), “Main Street Index: Optimism Amid Inflation Edition,” a PYMNTS and Melio collaboration, found that 29% of food, entertainment and accommodation businesses reported being “very” or “extremely” likely to invest in automatization/robotization of tasks that currently require manual effort. Additionally, the study, which drew from a survey of 765 business owners on Main Street U.S.A., found that 55% were similarly likely to buy or upgrade equipment.

Get the study: The Main Street Index

In an interview last month with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, Andrew Robbins, CEO of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) customer experience management (CXM) solutions provider Paytronix, discussed how restaurants’ staffing challenges are hurting their ability to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the widespread demand for dining experiences.

“[Restaurants are] still struggling,” he said. “So, revenue’s up, dining is up, and it really could be a boom market for them if they could get the labor. There are still people who are shutting down, not doing the full day that they would normally do and closing some nights, so they don’t overwork the team — so maybe close a Monday, Tuesday night, but work people longer hours Friday/Saturday. It’s still a real problem.”

See more: Labor Challenges Stifling Would-Be Restaurant Boom, Paytronix CEO Says