Tech Tracker: store prototypes are becoming more and more high-tech

These days, even the most regional restaurant chains are investing in new store prototypes with smaller dining areas and an increased focus on drive-thru and digital ordering. To meet consumer demand, the most tech-savvy brands are coming up with even more flashy and digital store designs, like Taco Bell’s new “Defy” four-way design.

This month, we’ve seen the announcement of several new digital technology-focused store prototypes, including Taco Bell and Panera.

Robots are once again taking over the restaurant industry, with Grubhub bringing delivery robots to college campuses and Chick-fil-A investing in AI. Also, the latest food brand to dive into the metaverse is Kraft, which has filed trademarks for NFTs and a future digital restaurant.

Tech Tracker summarizes what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, suppliers, digital platforms and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and why:

Kraft enters the Metaverse

Kraft has become the latest – and one of the largest – food companies in enter the metaverse by filing trademark applications for its Kraft, Jell-o, Kool-Aid, Velveeta, Lunchables, Oscar Meyer and Philadelphia brands. Like almost every other brand before it, Kraft has made no official announcement of plans for its digital presence, but the brand includes NFTs and virtual restaurants, food and drink. Kraft is the only restaurant to have taken the digital leap: Tony Roma’s filed for an NFT trademark in the metaverse last month.

Panera and Taco Bell launch forward-thinking digital store formats

Both Panera Bread and Taco Bell were technology pioneers in the restaurant industry and now both brands are pushing the boundaries of state-of-the-art store prototypes.

Taco Bell’s new store offering will be known as “Defy” and will open in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota this summer with four drive-thru lanes and a host of digital tech conveniences like digital check-in screens that allow customers to place orders via QR code and have their food delivered by an exclusive contactless elevator system, while two-way audio and video features will allow customers to chat with employees throughout the process without contact.

While Panera Bread’s new seatless Panera To Go unit isn’t as flashy as Taco Bell, it’s worth noting that Panera has been pushing the boundaries of contactless technology since the pandemic began. Panera to Go follows the announcement of the contactless catering service and has both a drive-thru and a pick-up area for guests and delivery drivers.

Chick-fil-A now has delivery robots

Chick-fil-A is the latest quick service restaurant to embrace AI technology. The chicken chain is partnering with Refraction AI to test autonomous delivery at two locations in Austin, Texas (which is home to autonomous delivery and drone testing).

This autonomous robot rolls on the bike path or on the shoulder of the road and is designed to perform last mile deliveries without further rushing labor requirements.

“The platform will allow us to provide fast, high quality and cost effective meal delivery within a one kilometer radius of our restaurant while helping to keep the community we serve environmentally clean and safe,” said Luke Steigmeyer. , a Chick-fil-A franchisee. on the service tested in his restaurant.

Grubhub brings autonomous delivery to college campuses

Speaking of delivery robots, Grubhub is investing in AI and bringing robots to college campuses nationwide this fall in partnership with Cartken. The pilot was tested in partnership with Ohio State University this spring and will now be rolled out to 250 college campuses when students return from summer vacation.

“We are excited to work with Grubhub to delight students and campus staff with robot delivery,” said Christian Bersch, CEO of Cartken, in a statement. “This collaboration aligns perfectly with our mission to use robotics and AI technology to provide frictionless and environmentally responsible delivery, and put robots at the service of the community.”

Lunchbox acquires digital ordering provider NovaDine

The Lunchbox technology pioneer has entered the acquisition space for the second time with the announcement that the company has agreed to acquire NovaDine, which offers an end-to-end digital ordering solution. NovaDine’s list of restaurant partners includes Firehouse Subs, Torchy’s Tacos, Taco Bueno and Steak & Shake, which have now been added to the list of Lunchbox partners.

This announcement follows Lunchbox’s acquisition of the Spread online marketplace. With these acquisitions, Lunchbox realizes its goal of becoming the end-to-end technology solution.

“Traditionally, restaurants have faced the enormous hurdle of having to choose between several different technology tools to manage their business, understand their digital customers and scale their operations,” Lunchbox CEO Nabeel Alamgir said in a statement. . “NovaDine has built a complete platform that allows the operator to manage all digital controls from a single operating system.

DoorDash adds Yelp-like review features

DoorDash has been busy over the past month, with the completion of the acquisition of food delivery company Wolt and the announcement that the company will launch and curate in-app reviews, much like Yelp, to expand its algorithm to customer recommendations.

DoorDash now offers customers lists of top-rated restaurants in their neighborhoods, with features like written reviews and top-rated items, to end the tendency for customers to scroll endlessly and aimlessly through the app. DoorDash.

DoorDash is the latest of the “big three” delivery companies to add written reviews, but the first to include top 10 lists organized for customers by cuisine, location, and more.

Square launches mobile point of sale features

POS systems are upgrading as operators demand more features on handheld devices as opposed to traditional POS systems. Square announced a new capability last month: Square for Restaurants mobile POS, which allows servers to take orders and payments through the device in their pockets. The two devices Square will use are Square Terminal and the upcoming Restaurant Mobile POS kit, which will be released this fall.

Features of these new devices include kitchen-to-table order flow management, routing tickets, loyalty program connections, and integration with OpenTable.

BentoBox now makes payments

BentoBox joins the crowd of tech companies rushing to add functionality and become an “all-in-one” technology solution: the all-new BentoBox Payments is partnered with Clover and enables employees to take orders, process payments and manage them on a single platform.

“Restaurants don’t have the time or resources to balance countless dashboards and partners. Instead, they need simple, unified solutions that allow them to reach their customers on their terms,” said Krystle Mobayeni, co-founder of BentoBox and head of restaurants at Fiserv in a statement. “We are addressing this need and bringing restaurants a customizable platform that improves indoor and back-office operations and provides an exceptional digital experience for diners.”

Maria R. Newman