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3 Reasons Automation Is Redefining Restaurants


Autonomous technology is redefining the customer experience and how restaurants are interacting with customers. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry, a majority of consumers would like to see restaurants add more technology that improves customer service and makes ordering and payment easier. To that end, emerging technologies that rate highest among consumers surveyed include service-enhancing items such as tablets at the table, self-service electronic kiosks, and wearable technology for restaurant servers.

Increasingly in the QSR and midscale space, restaurant operators are adding more DIY technology, and many tech-savvy millennials prefer to engage with technology vs. staff. McDonald’s has been adding self-ordering kiosks. More than half of the 14,000 U.S. locations have been transformed into the QSR’s “Experience of the Future” concept that includes self-ordering kiosks and digital menu boards.

Self-service technology can help reduce customer friction points such as waiting in line to place an order. Brewhall in Vancouver has offered its customers a way to skip the line with self-service technology — resulting in a server-less environment. Guests can wait in line to order or they can use their smartphone to scan a QR code or go to the website,, to order from wherever they are. Guests checkout and pay using either Google Pay, Apple Pay or by scanning a credit card for payment and simply pickup orders when they are ready.

“Technology is really supposed to augment service and reduce friction points,” said Daniel Frankel, owner of Brewhall. “There is a lot of talk and concern about robots replacing humans. I feel that hospitality has a very important place in society. Technology can improve experience and help restaurants focus on what is important. For us, that is the guest experience and making connections.”

When shopping for technology, Frankel was looking for a secure solution that wouldn’t require guests to download apps and enter information. “We wanted to let them control the ordering and payment experience,” he said. The beer hall concept uses Ready, an app-less restaurant payment technology that allows guests to view the menu, order and pay from their smartphone using the camera. At Brewhall, Ready is seamlessly integrated into its Micros POS and its Squirrel KDS through API interfaces. Frankel has added Ready’s pay-at-the-table technology to its full service concept, Tap & Barrel. The next step is to add geolocation, said Frankel.

Why Now?

According to Hospitality Technology’s 2019 Restaurant Technology Study, 30% of restaurants are adding kiosks for the first time. Fazoli’s falls into that group as the Italian QSR started adding kiosks to its stores earlier this year as part of its restaurant redesign. The plan includes two kiosks per store: one is a freestanding unit, one rests on the front counter. (The redesign includes a pickup counter for mobile app and online orders.)

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Automation Checklist: Before You Start

Get Buy In
Getting buy-in is key for a successful automation rollout. For Fazoli’s this did not take long. “I asked the leadership team ‘Where do we want to be in five years?’ We did a roadmap where we wanted to be,” explained Wayne Pederson, VP of Information Technology. “We were behind our competition in QSR. In three to five years, we wanted to make sure we were at par or ahead of our competition.”

Leadership and franchisees were quick to see the value of the investment. Fazoli’s hadn’t made a tech investment in some time, and “franchisees realized it was something we were lacking in,” explained Pederson.

Ditch the Legacy Systems
“To compete in today’s digital marketplace, we knew we couldn’t do it with the old POS system,” Pederson explained. With the exception of the BOH printer, Fazolis had to “gut and replace everything. It was not an incremental approach. We scrapped and rebuilt everything from scratch — cabling, data, electric, all new terminals,”
he added.

Establish a Modern Infrastructure
That was the base needed to enable the layering of technology — ParTech’s Brink POS, Bite kiosks, BOH, hardware software – “the whole nine yards,” said Pederson. “We had to make sure company-owned and franchised locations were all there and then we started layering in new technology.” The whole process took more than two years, he added.

For Fazoli’s, the reason for adding kiosks is simple. “Consumers are asking for it,” said Wayne Pederson, VP of Information Technology. “Just look at grocery stores and the self-checkout lines. People are waiting in lines for self-checkout when there are available cashiers.”

This shifting preference for customers to utilize machines versus humans for interactions with businesses is noted in industry research. Gartner predicts that by the year 2020, 85% of customers interactions with businesses will not involve a human. Hospitality Technology’s 2019 Customer Engagement Study reports that more than a quarter of restaurant-goers (26%) will actually choose one restaurant over another based on the availability of interactive kiosks.  

“Fazoli’s is providing the guest with the type of interaction that they want. We have millennial guests who want to have that interaction with a computer and may choose to order with a kiosk.”

1 The State of Labor

With unemployment low and minimum wage on the rise, restaurant operators of all sizes are looking to autonomous technology to gain workforce efficiencies and in some cases replace or augment staff. Repetitive tasks that can be automated through kiosks and robots give restaurants the freedom to focus on customer experience. Before adding any type of autonomous tech, restaurants should take into consideration two things: First, the customer experience, designing services and processes around the needs and expectations of today’s customers, and second, how workforce and workflow will change and plan accordingly. 

2 At the Table Redefined

The dine-in experience is being transformed with technology at the table. When it comes to tableside ordering and payment technologies, 14% and 10% of restaurants offer them and 21% and 30% plan to add them, respectively, according to HT’s 2019 Customer Engagement Technology Study.

Applebee’s ( began using self-ordering solutions at the table in 2014. And for several years, the fast-casual chain has used the PrestoPrime ( EMV tabletop device, which lets customers self-order and pay at the table with EMV and mobile payment technologies.

According to research conducted by Cornell University and Presto, 75% of guests that used the Presto System said it improved their dining experience and 81% of guests said the Presto System
increased their likelihood to return to the restaurant.

“We’ve been on the forefront of using technology,” says Scott Gladstone, vice president of strategy, off-premise and development at Applebee’s. “We continue to find ways to add tech into our guest experience. It continues to evolve.”

3 Robotics on a Roll

Restaurants are also adding robotics. About 8% of restaurants surveyed are using robotics while 20% are planning to invest, according to HT’s 2019 Customer Engagement Technology Study. Scott Henderson, CEO of The Salad Station, opened his first location in Hammond, La., in 2012. With 12 locations under his belt, Henderson decided to test Chowbotics’ Sally the Robot in March at a nearby hospital.  

Recently The Salad Station added five more units, all near a brick-and-mortar location and branded as The Salad Station. Running multiple units, Henderson says, “is a walk in the park. It is much easier than running a restaurant.” 

Less than three-feet-wide, The Salad Station unit can go into airports, hospitals, universities, office buildings and more. The units are temperature-controlled, keeping ingredients perfectly chilled at 36 degrees. The robots are stocked from nearby brick-and-mortar locations. Chowbotics cloud-based platform makes it easy to do reporting and to see how many ingredients have been sold, for example. “If an ingredient runs out or expires, we get a text or email,” Henderson adds. 


Rolln in NYC relies heavily on tech for efficiency and product consistency.

Henderson sees the added revenue potential for the organization and franchisees “without a lot of extra headache.” Each brick-and-mortar store could support up to five robots. The Salad Station is working on a mobile app that could be used at brick-and-mortar and self-service locations. Once a customer arrives at the robot, she would enter a pin to retrieve the order. 

A sushi-making robot is an integral part of Rolln, a sushi carryout restaurant that debuted in New York City’s Flatiron District in 2018. The concept relies heavily on technology for efficiency, product consistency and also to keep costs down. While in the planning stages, owner David Tam acknowledged that if the brand was not able to generate profit or break even, it would go out of business. 

“We looked hard at doing things as efficiently as possible,” he said.

Autec’s sushi making robot creates the rolls consistently. This adds to customer satisfaction, and the exact portioning keeps food costs in check. There’s no cashier or order taker, saving Rolln money on labor. Customers order and pay at kiosks. First-time customers like to “hang out and look at everything” on one of six Revel Systems’  kiosks, said Tam. “They can take their time. There’s no pressure. From an operational perspective, no one is getting their order wrong.”

It all helps Rolln live up to its mission of offering healthy food at an affordable price; the average order is about $15.

About the Author


Anna Wolfe

Anna Wolfe is Hospitality Technology’s senior editor.  She has more than 15 years of experience as a B2B journalist writing about restaurants, retail and specialty food.

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