When Wade Allen takes the stage, everyone leans in. Why? Because Brinker is always looking at cutting-edge tech at-scale, and Wade is the driving force behind it. Here are my top takeaways from his firechat with Abby Lorden, HT’s VP and co-founder of RTN.
Rita Rolls In
With labor being a major current-day challenge for most restaurants, it’s no surprise that Brinker has turned to robots, testing Bear Robotics affectionately named “Rita” for hosting, seating and co-automation throughout 10 restaurants in CA, TX and FL. “It may be 50-100 locations in the near future, we’re starting to press to see where it goes. Look for a robot coming soon to a restaurant near you within 1-1 ½ year,” he said.
When it comes to back-of-house (BOH) robotics, Brinker is exploring its options. “We ask ourselves, how can we make working in the kitchen easy. Can we make it so simple that it works and it’s consistent?”
Drone Delivery Takes Off
Rover technology & drones are especially attractive for restaurants looking to crack the delivery code. Brinker is leaning into Flytrex, piloting drone delivery in a couple of locations. “We’ve been very impressed with what they’re able to do. Realistically, we see sizable drone delivery within our grasp in 3-4 years, hundreds maybe thousands of deliveries. Is it drone delivery-as-a-service? Are they taking off from the roof? We’re not sure yet, but we’re actively seeking to figure it out.”
Virtual Brands Booming
Brinker stood up two virtual brands, It’s Just Wings & Maggiano’s Italian Classics, out of its existing kitchens. “We’ve tested other (virtual) brands, but it would be too much (volume) to put into existing kitchens. With dark or ghost kitchens, you can enter into markets where you’re not. They provide an opportunity to extend our footprint into a new model and not build a $3M restaurant in that market.”
When it comes to sustainability, Brinker is looking into solar capabilities, with strategically-placed AC/HVAC to make room for solar panels on the roof, or even covering parking areas with solar. “Can we do that to power the restaurant? We’re working with Powerhouse Dynamics, a data dashboard solution, to really see what’s going on when it comes to power usage, HVAC, water usage, asking ourselves can we improve the environment? We are becoming more conscious of what’s happening in the restaurants in this area.”