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How casual restaurants are taking advantage of technology


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As casual dining brands continue to host virtual brands in their kitchens while also facing a tight employee market, some operators are increasingly seeking technological innovations to make their kitchens faster and more efficient.

Chili’s Grill & Bar, the 1,592-unit division of Dallas-based Brinker International, has pulled back from earlier trials of customer-facing technology such as robotic servers and drone deliveries to focus instead on new kitchen equipment. And Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with 70 locations in 14 states, is implementing a new kitchen showcase system to connect its front-of-house with kitchen staff to improve efficiency.

In about 50 of its units, Chili’s seeks to create its Kitchen of the Future Three with grills and ovens upgraded with technology to speed cooking and increase consistency. The test was implemented in earnest in November, a spokesperson said.

Joe Taylor, Brinker’s chief financial officer, said on a November earnings call that the new team would automate some of the internal functions.


Test equipment includes a programmable three-deck TurboChef oven for pizzas, ribs and quesadillas and a two-surface griddle that can cook burgers, steaks, chicken and salmon on both sides with one touch. The oven can cook items 50% faster than a traditional version with a conveyor belt.

Kevin Hochman, Brinker’s CEO and president, said during an earnings call in August that the company was working to increase margins and that new buildings might not include as much in-store dining space but be optimized for off-premises sales. . That would include optimizing the kitchen, he said.

“We’re going to try to accelerate what we call the Kitchen of the Future Three, which is equipment that will make it much easier, faster and more consistent, and drastically reduce cooking times on most of our menu items,” Hochman saying. “We believe that increasing the speed of service through that equipment will lead to faster table changes and increased sales. Therefore, we are aggressively looking at technology as a way to improve restaurant margins and productivity.”

The goal is to eliminate friction for both team members and guests, Hochman said.

“For team members, there is a clear opportunity in our heart of the house, or back of the house with our kitchen display systems that improve order flow and in the to-go area, which now represents the 35% of our business,” Hochman said.

“There are also several tasks that we think guests might want to do themselves with the right technology, if we can implement it right in restaurants, such as sit down, order and pay,” he added. “This will make it easier for guests and reduce the amount of time our team members have to do those tasks for our guests today.”

Chile is not alone.

Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux announced in January that it was investing in technology as it celebrated its 20ththe anniversary and was working to improve the customer experience.

The award-winning brand was rolling out a system-wide aggregator to consolidate third-party orders, partnered with Lunchbox to upgrade its online ordering and guest loyalty program, and entered a partnership with cloud-based platform Toast to enhance its -Sale point of technology and kitchen display system.

“Investing in your tools is investing in your employees, guests and franchisees,” Jared Hinshaw, Walk-On’s vice president of technology, said in a statement. “Technological advancement is the wave of the future in all businesses.”

Walk-On’s was scheduled to launch its new loyalty program and smartphone app, designed by Lunchbox, in the first half of this year, improving the interface and back-end integration.

“The online guest experience is a non-negotiable for restaurants,” said Nabeel Alamgir, CEO and co-founder of Lunchbox. “Walk-On’s is not only leading the space, investing in the look and feel of its guests’ digital ordering experience, but also expanding every end of its technology and marketing.”

In addition to the updated Toast POS system, Walk-On’s is installing the Toast Kitchen Display System, connecting its front of house with kitchen staff for kitchen efficiencies, and launching Toast Go 2 portable POS devices. For tableside and sidewalk use. at current and future locations.

Toast Go 2 sends orders directly to the kitchen display system, improving speed of service and allowing staff to serve more guests than with previous platforms, the company said.

The new technology is planned as a gradual rollout at existing locations throughout this year and will be installed at all new restaurants, the company said.

Both traders and clients are comfortable with the technology, according to a recent survey by trading platform Lightspeed. It surveyed 1,100 restaurateurs and 7,000 consumers in September and October 2022, and found that 57% of respondents agreed that the adoption of new technology in the past two years has been critical to the survival of their business.

And of restaurateurs surveyed by Lightspeed, 43% said they were operating with fewer staff than in previous periods.

About a third, or 30% of respondents, were limiting the number of days or hours of operation, especially in slower months, to help offset costs due to inflation and preserve staff shortages.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PF Chang’s China Bistro, which has 200 national locations and more than 300 systemwide, took advantage of a new kitchen inventory management system to save time and reduce waste.

PF_Chang_s_PerimeterBistro-PressRelease-2400x900.jpgPF Chang’s has implemented Crunchtime, the inventory and operations management platform, to help manage profitability. “We have reduced the variance from the theoretical to the actual cost of food,” a spokesperson said.

The Asian-inspired concept has also implemented Zenput to elevate team execution at each restaurant.

“It streamlines operating procedures and focuses on food safety,” a spokesperson said. “He has the ability to assign tasks by restaurant and point out areas for improvement. He is helping with menu training and is a resource for restaurant leaders to strategically address optimizations they want to make.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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