News Briefs

  • 10/15/2023

    A&W Canada Launches Exchangeable Cup Program

    AW reusable cup

    A&W is launching its A&W One Cup program nationwide. The program promotes an exchangeable feature, promoting circular usage.

    To join, customers buy an exchangeable One Cup for $3 when they order any beverage. On  the next visit to  an A&W, A&W will exchange it for a freshly cleaned and sanitized One Cup and guests get a 20-cent discount on tehireverage.

    Sustainability for the Planet  

    Sustainability matters to today's consumers and restaurant operators. Two out of three (66%) consumers surveyed feel it’s important that restaurants are open about their practices to limit food waste. According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, sustainability will continue to influence menus and how restaurants make decisions.

    Every year, over a billion of single-use cups end up in landfills in Canada. As a brand with a long history of using reusables for dine-in guests, A&W sought a new way to use their dishwashers to reduce single-use waste. A&W makes it easy and convenient for guests to reduce cup waste through the One Cup program.

    All A&W restaurants that serve frosty glass mugs are able to exchange an A&W One Cup. To date, A&W has prevented over 55,000 cups from ending up in landfills since the program's pilot launch in select Canadian markets and expect this number to grow into millions in the first year of the national launch.

    "At A&W, our commitment to our zero-waste journey is unwavering, and addressing the single-use cups waste issue is a significant stride towards our journey to zero-waste. That's why we're thrilled to introduce our One Cup program nationwide in Canada. When crafting this program, we prioritized making it effortless, convenient, and accessible for our guests. We do the dishwashing for our guests so that they can enjoy the benefits of using reusable cups without the hassle," said Angela Griffiths, VP of Food Safety, Animal Welfare and Environment.

  • 10/4/2023

    Chipotle Tests Digital Make Line

    Chipotle digital make line and employee

    Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing an automated digital makeline in collaboration with Hyphen, a foodservice platform designed to help restaurant owners, operators, and budding chefs move their business forward by automating kitchen operations. Bowls and salads are created by an automated system that moves the entrées through the bottom makeline where ingredients for the order are dispensed automatically. In tandem, a Chipotle team member can leverage the top makeline to create burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and kid's meals for the same digital order.

    How It Works

    1. Digital orders would be placed via the Chipotle app,, or third-party platforms.  
    2. If the order included a bowl or salad, those entrées would be routed to Hyphen's automated system. The bowl traverses along the bottom makeline and positions itself under the specified ingredient container. The intelligent dispensers dynamically portion each ingredient into the bowl. If the order included burritos, tacos, quesadillas, or kid's meals, a Chipotle team member would use the top of the same makeline to create those entrées.
    3. The completed bowl or salad would be raised from the bottom makeline and revealed at the end of the makeline through an opening in the countertop. A Chipotle team member would place a lid on the entrée and add any final items such as chips, side salsas, or guacamole to the order.
    4. Completed orders would be placed in their designated pick-up area: in-restaurant pickup shelves, walk-up window, or Chipotlane.

    Employee & Guest Experience

    Approximately 65% of all Chipotle digital orders are bowls or salads, so the cobotic digital makeline has the potential to free up more time for employees to service the front makeline and deliver exceptional hospitality, while simultaneously increasing capacity for digital orders during peak periods.

    The new digital makeline could also help enhance digital order accuracy, improving the guest experience.

    "Chipotle's new digital makeline built by Hyphen embodies our commitment to leveraging robotics to unlock the human potential of our workforce, ensuring an elevated dining experience for our guests," said Curt Garner, Chief Customer and Technology Officer. "Our goal is to have the automated digital makeline be the centerpiece of all our restaurants' digital kitchens." 

    Chipotle's Investment in Hyphen

    Chipotle invested in Hyphen as part of Cultivate Next, the company's $50 million venture fund that intends to make early-stage investments into strategically aligned companies that further its mission to Cultivate a Better World and help accelerate its aggressive growth plans. As a people-first company, Chipotle is seeking opportunities that will elevate the human experience for its teams as well as increase access and convenience for its guests. Investments may include innovations in farming and supply chain, advanced robotics, alternative proteins, and more.

    Through Cultivate Next, Chipotle also invested in Vebu, a product development company that works with food industry leaders to co-create intelligent automation and technology solutions. Earlier this year, Chipotle and Vebu unveiled the Autocado, an avocado processing cobotic prototype that cuts, cores, and peels avocados before they are hand mashed to create the restaurant's famous guacamole. 


    image courtesy of Chipotle

  • 10/15/2023

    Denny’s Hires Pankaj Patra as Chief Digital and Technology Officer


     Denny’s Corporation announced the hiring of Pankaj Patra as Chief Digital and Technology Officer (CDTO), effective October 30. This is a newly created enterprise role that will include support for Denny’s and Keke’s. Patra will be responsible for accelerating the company’s capabilities across all specialties within the Digital, Technology and Information functions.

    Patra comes to Denny’s from Brinker International, Inc., where he served as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, responsible for overseeing information technology and data security for the company and its restaurants brands. Patra brings 25 years of experience as an innovative enterprise technology architect, digital strategist and information technology leader.

    “Denny’s is an iconic restaurant company that understands and values the connection between great people and smart technology. I am looking forward to working collaboratively across the company to identify opportunities for improvement and implement exciting, innovative, transformative solutions,” said Patra.

    Patra earned his undergraduate degree from the National Institute of Technology, Rourkela and went on to attain his MBA from Southern Methodist University. He is a member of the Dallas chapter of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association.

    Patra is based in Dallas. Michael Furlow, Denny’s Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer, will remain on staff through the end of the year to support the transition. For more information, please visit

  • 6/21/2023

    Shiji and IPORT Partner to Transform Hotel Restaurant Operations with All-in-One Tablet and Payment Device Solution

    Shiji teaser logo

    Shiji, a global hospitality technology innovator, has partnered with IPORT, an award-winning manufacturer known for enhancing the usability of iPads and iPhones, to introduce an all-in-one software solution for hotel restaurants. This collaboration will provide hoteliers with a seamless combination of a tablet and payment device to maximize their F&B operations.

    The integrated iOS and payment device solution simplifies guest service for hotel restaurant servers, providing them with an effortless tool to cater to their guests' needs. As a certified Apple partner, Shiji and IPORT guarantee exceptional performance and reliability. Hoteliers can choose from multiple device options, including iPad Pro, iPad Mini, and iPhone, ensuring flexibility and compatibility with their operations.

    “IPORT products are built around modularity and flexibility that empower our hospitality customers to do more with the iOS platform. We are thrilled to partner with a leading iPad and iPhone cloud PMS and POS platform provider like Shiji,” said Chris Lawson, Head of Partnerships, IPORT. “We look forward to innovating with Shiji in disrupting legacy, monolithic providers who have limited the industry from harnessing the power of iOS and mobility. The future is bright, and the possibilities are endless with IPORT, iOS, and Shiji.”

    "The partnership with IPORT is a significant milestone for Shiji in our commitment to provide innovative technology solutions for the hospitality industry," said Ryan King, Senior Vice President of Shiji in the Americas. "By combining our expertise with IPORT’s hardware solutions, we empower hoteliers to streamline restaurant operations and deliver exceptional guest experiences. This collaboration represents another step forward in our dedication to driving success in the Americas, and globally."

    The tablet and payment device solution seamlessly integrates with multiple payment gateways, allowing hoteliers to choose the system that best suits their needs. By simplifying the payment process, it reduces operational complexities, minimizes errors, and saves valuable time and resources for hoteliers.

  • 10/15/2023

    Focus Brands Appoints New Supply Chain, Customer Engagement and Digital Leaders

    Focus brands logo

    Focus Brands added three new leaders to its supply chain, digital, and customer engagement functions: 

    • Christopher McNutt, SVP of Supply Chain
    • Urvi Patel, SVP of Customer Engagement & Experience
    • Manuel Valdes, SVP of Digital, Data & Marketing Technology

    "At Focus Brands, we've invested in platforms, tools and resources to support our brands' ability to grow. More importantly, we're investing in the right talent to build industry-best technology and supply chain capabilities," said Jim Holthouser, CEO of Focus Brands. "The addition of top-tier talent like these three individuals to our organization ensures continued success for our brands and franchisees."

    Christopher McNutt is Focus Brands' new SVP of Supply Chain. He will be responsible for overseeing the supply chain, distribution, logistics and quality assurance functions for all seven brands in the Focus Brands portfolio globally. This role is responsible for strategic planning and directing all aspects of policies, objectives and initiatives for each supply chain function to ensure adaptable and scalable solutions. He will lead the Supply Chain team in creating even more value for brand franchisees, identifying and capturing synergies across all brands, leveraging combined purchasing power, and providing shared capabilities. Chris brings more than 20 years of experience in pricing, logistics and supply chain to Focus Brands. A trusted advisor in the industry, he serves as Treasurer on the National Restaurant Association Supply Chain Expert Exchange Board. For the past 17 years, Chris has held senior leadership positions at Centralized Supply Chain Services LLC, the purchasing cooperative for Applebee's and IHOP.

    Urvi Patel has been promoted to Focus Brands' Executive Leadership Team and named SVP of Customer Experience and Engagement, leading customer engagement and loyalty, branded currency, revenue management, insights and digital experience. Joining the company in 2019 as the Vice President of Insights, Analytics and Revenue Management, she successfully spearheaded a Voice of the Customer program that provides multi-dimensional insights for all seven brands. With over 20 years of experience in leading cross-functional business teams and tackling complex business challenges, Urvi brings a unique perspective to her role, leveraging her expertise in corporate and brand strategy, franchisee engagement, and analytics. Prior to joining Focus Brands, she spent 10 years with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), where she progressively advanced through numerous leadership positions across the organization, including Owner and Franchise Services, Corporate Strategy and New Brand Strategy. Urvi started her career in Corporate Finance at Ernst & Young in London, England and continued to grow her career in M&A and business valuation in Atlanta at The Home Depot and Kroll.

    Manuel Valdes joins the company as SVP of Digital, Data & Marketing Technology. In this newly created role, he will build and lead the technology strategy for Focus Brands' digital and data platforms, AI and machine learning-based analytics as well as marketing and advertising technologies. Manuel is a seasoned technology leader with over 30 years of experience in digital and e-commerce transformation throughout industries and markets worldwide. Previously, Manuel served as the Chief Technology Officer of Central Group in Thailand where he executed a comprehensive multi-year digital and e-commerce transformation across the company's entire portfolio, including department stores, groceries, electronics, and international operations in Europe, Vietnam and Asia.

    Atlanta-based Focus Brands  is a  developer of global multi-channel foodservice brands  including Auntie Anne's Carvel Cinnabon JambaMcAlister's DeliMoe's Southwest Grill  and Schlotzsky's,  As of June 25, 2023, Focus Brands, through its affiliate brands, is the franchisor and operator of more than 6,600 restaurants.

  • 10/15/2023

    Hilton Announces Two New Digital Innovations for SMBs

    business woman by front desk

    Hilton announced two new digital innovations designed to create a more seamless travel experience for small- and medium-sized businesses. The innovations are part of Hilton’s long-term commitment to digitally transform the business travel experience – from booking to billing – for the millions of small- and medium-size enterprises that represent the backbone of the global economy and comprise roughly 85 percent of Hilton’s business transient guests.

    [Hilton is taking digital travel trends seriously as explained in its recent 2024 Trends Report.]

    The initiatives, which will launch by early next year, include: 

    Hilton for Business: This multi-faceted program, currently in test with select customers and slated to launch globally early next year, will feature a new booking website designed especially for small- and medium-sized businesses, along with targeted benefits including:

    • Portfolio-wide Discounts: Small and medium businesses that join Hilton for Business will gain access to a discounted rate on and on the Hilton Honors app across Hilton’s global portfolio of more than 7,000 properties.
    • Loyalty Benefits: To recognize loyalty, the businesses will earn Hilton Honors Bonus Points for program registration and travel milestones. Hilton Honors members will continue to earn Points each time they stay. 
    • Rapid onboarding: Hilton for Business registration is built to enable a quick and seamless enrollment for businesses online without complicated forms or processes. 
    • Program Management: In addition to enabling travelers to easily book discounted rates, each Hilton for Business program account can be set up with varying permissions across a designated team. Business owners will have full control – or can delegate to others on their team – over the program management system built to be simple and intuitive with tools and resources.

    Small Meetings and Event Packages via Events.Hilton.comTo support the growing demand for in-person gatherings, Hilton is expanding its events booking capabilities, enabling customers shopping for meeting packages for up to 35 attendees to book guest rooms and meetings or event spaces, with or without 10 to 25 guest rooms, directly on without a separate contract or phone call. This enhancement is especially valuable to small and medium-sized businesses who need to plan small in-person meetings and events quickly without staff or third-party support. 

    “Even as the global pandemic significantly impacted global travel, small- and medium-sized business travelers never slowed down,” said Chris Silcock, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Hilton. “We used that opportunity to listen and learn how we could solve long-running pain points and deliver what these businesses need most -- simple booking and travel management tools and recognition and rewards for their loyalty.” 

    For more than 100 years, Hilton has led the industry in evolving the business travel experience by listening loudly to customers and responding quickly to their needs. These initiatives are being introduced following a year of innovations focused on addressing the needs of today’s small- and medium-sized business traveler, including the debut of two new brands -- Spark by Hilton and Project H3 by Hilton. 

    “Hilton for Business is an outstanding benefit for smaller companies to manage their travel programs,” said Patrick LaCava, executive vice president, Operations, Syufy Enterprises, one of the select Hilton customers currently testing and refining the program. “It offers a cost-effective hotel program for our business travelers, providing an excellent discount while still earning Points for our travelers and company.”  


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