News Briefs

  • 2/26/2024

    Chris Caldwell Named Brinker International's CIO

    Chris Caldwell headshot

    Chris Caldwell has joined Brinker International as SVP and Chief Information Officer. 

    Caldwell is a world-class leader with an impressive background across all functions of IT. He spent 27 years leading technology teams at Yum! Brands, most recently serving for a decade in the role of Chief Technology Officer at KFC, where he helped build a leading technology team, robust tech platforms and an amazing culture. As Brinker's CIO, Caldwell will lead the IT team and accelerate its progress against the company's ambitious technology roadmap.

    Brinker International Inc. announced other updates to its executive leadership team, including  the retirement of Joe Taylor, EVP and Chief Financial Officer, the appointment of Mika Ware as SVP and Chief Financial Officer, effective June 27.

    Chief Financial Officer Joe Taylor has informed the Company of his intention to retire at the end of the company's fiscal year in June 2024 after almost 25 years at the company. He will continue to serve the company in a senior advisory role through August 2024.

    Current VP of Finance, Investor Relations, and Restaurant Development Mika Ware has been appointed SVP, Chief Financial Officer, and will assume the role upon Taylor's departure at the beginning of fiscal year 2025 on June 27. Ware started her Brinker journey in 1988 as a Chili's host and earned her finance degree while working at Chili's. Over the years, she's held finance and IR roles of increasing responsibility at the Company and is an expert in Brinker's business, brands, and the finance organization.

  • 2/26/2024

    A New Type of Robot- High Tech Helpers Enhancing Hospitality Efficiency With Smart Follow Technology

    More than ten years ago the first robots were implemented in hotels. Early robots were expensive and limited to mostly room deliveries or used as hotel marketing tools. The ROI was difficult, the impact on guest experience was questionable, and staff were skeptical that this technology could be used to replace them.

    Fast forward to today and a lot of those problems still remain. However, costs have become more manageable and the ROI can be quantified under the right circumstances, but there are still relatively few hotels that have robots in use today. A new wave of robots enhancing the guest and staff experience are changing that. 

    Co-bots and humans working together 

    Most of the robots that hotels have implemented are autonomous. They are intended to replace some or all of a task that has been provided by hotel associates like bringing towels to a guest or delivering food. In a business that is based on human connections, robots can be perceived as a hindrance to providing a personal experience or as a rival with employees for their jobs.

    But co-bots are changing that perception, Co-bots or collaborative robots, are created with a different purpose in mind. These co-bots are intentionally designed to work with humans with a focus on augmenting staff, not replacing them. Co-bots can perform a variety of repetitive or menial tasks in collaboration with their human counterparts and have been deployed in a number of other more industrial settings. Piaggio Fast Forward is reshaping the way hotels deliver exceptional guest experiences through groundbreaking robotic technology and leading the way with introducing co-bots to the hotel space.

    The newest co-bot that Piaggio has developed is called kilo. kilo was formally announced at MODEX in Atlanta in March 2024. With current pilots in progress, the kilo is set for full commercial release later this year and it will change the way that robots are used in the hotel industry and beyond.

    PFF kilo and Benefits for Hotels

    The kilo platform is flexibly designed to be either a stand-alone solution or to be integrated into existing hotel carts and platforms to move and carry materials throughout the property. Whether it is housekeeping carts, mobile bars, catering trolleys, or luggage carts, all of those platforms can be automated to follow staff and travel independently back to a designated location for storage, re-use, or re-stocking.

    A great example of this would be a typical housekeeping cart that follows the housekeeper to the room and can travel back to a stock room to be replenished while the room is being cleaned, making the staff member more efficient and helping them eliminate a non-essential task. It also works to lower the physical wear and tear on the associate, making their job easier, more pleasant, and potentially lowering turnover as well as reducing potential injuries.

    Studies show that 30% of workplace claims are related pushing and pulling injuries, so eliminating these tasks don’t just improve the employee environment, it makes it safer and saves the hotel money on both premiums and from associate downtime. It also helps with compliance to OSHA regulations.

    Additionally, the kilo robots can actually follow each other. So instead of having to take 3 trips to 

    banquet storage to set up for an event, or pulling three heavy mobile bars for an outdoor event, they can caravan together being led by a single associate who will not have to push or pull those heavy loads The technology is easy to learn, implement and complement employee jobs. Finally, they provide the associate with new skills that can help to justify the rising hourly costs for many of these roles. 

    Putting People First while embracing new technology 

    As we continue to use technology to solve problems in the industry, and enhance customer service we must never lose sight of the fact that our associates and our guests are the reason that we are here. Technology that augments and improves the guest experience as well as the work environment is how our industry can keep our focus on people, while still delivering value for owners. Co-bots have the potential to truly bridge that gap and ensure that both needs are met without compromising our primary mission of delivering hospitality.

  • 2/26/2024

    Wendy's Promotes Matt Spessard to CIO

    Wendy's logo

    The Wendy's Company promoted Matt Spessard to Chief Information Officer. He will report to President and Chief Executive Officer Kirk Tanner and serve on the Wendy's Senior Leadership Team. Spessard will succeed Kevin Vasconi who has served as Chief Information Officer since October 2020.

    Spessard has served as Senior Vice President, Global Chief Technology Officer for The Wendy's Company since August 2022. In this role, he was accountable for establishing the Wendy's System global technology vision and leading technological innovation and development to drive continued growth, competitive brand advantage and topline revenue for the Company and franchisees. As Chief Information Officer, Spessard will assume responsibility for all aspects of Wendy's global technology efforts, including Restaurant Technology, Data Management and Analytics, Enterprise Technology, Software Architecture and Engineering, and Information Security.

    "Driving the growth of the digital business and harnessing technology in restaurants to improve the customer and crew experience are important pieces of our plan to accelerate sales and profitable growth across the global System," said President and CEO Kirk Tanner. "Matt's extensive experience in overseeing global technology initiatives at Wendy's positions him as the ideal leader to build growth on our already successful foundation."

    Spessard joined Wendy's in May 2020 as Vice President, Restaurant Technology and assumed the expanded role of Vice President, Digital and Restaurant Technology in September 2020. Prior to that, he spent six years with Inspire Brands. He served in several roles of increasing accountability, including Vice President of Technology at SONIC. He also previously held various operations and technology leadership roles at YUM! Brands, Church's Chicken and Braum's Ice Cream & Dairy Stores.

  • 2/26/2024

    McDonald's Brings Anime Fans' Favorite Fictional Restaurant to Life

    McDonalds anime

    For years, anime fans have been making McDonald's-inspired "WcDonald's" restaurants a part of anime's most memorable movies and shows. Now, in collaboration with some of the biggest names in anime, WcDonald's will make the move from fiction to real life. 

    Beginning Feb. 26 in more than 30 global markets, McDonald's is building on its fans' vision and imagination by unleashing the WcDonald's universe in our restaurants and beyond, with a new sauce, manga-inspired packaging, episodic shorts and so much more.

    "Anime is a huge part of today's culture, and we love that our fans have been inviting us into the conversation for years," said Tariq Hassan, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer at McDonald's USA. "The WcDonald's universe is a reflection of what fans have created. It honors their vision and celebrates their creativity, while authentically bringing it to life in our restaurants for the first time ever."

    Marketing with Manga

    McDonald's teamed up with iconic Japanese manga artist/illustrator Acky Bright to design custom WcDonald's packaging that will take fans deeper into the world of WcDonald's. For a limited time, fans will receive manga-inspired packaging featuring WcDonald's Crew characters, sketched by Acky himself.

    Fans can also scan the code on the packaging to access weekly digital manga drops that star a full cast of WcDonald's Customers and Crew, including Hashirune, a WcDonald's regular, Mr. Bev, the Crew jokester, WcDizer 3000, WcDonald's very own mecha, and many more.

    "I had a great time partnering with McDonald's to help make WcDonald's a reality for manga fans who have a genuine love for the brand," said Acky Bright. "From the details of the diverse Crew characters to the manga plot itself, I loved being able to use my artwork to bring to life the dynamic, vibrant world of WcDonald's for people around the world."

    The First Official WcDonald's Anime

    McDonald's has partnered with legendary animation house studio pierrot to produce the first official WcDonald's anime. Four episodic shorts will take fans into the flavorful world of WcDonald's, where a story about the WcDonald's Sauce and WcNuggets unfold each week.

    Every Monday, from Feb. 26 until March 18, a new short will drop in tandem with new manga on, or by scanning the code on the WcDonald's bag. The shorts will honor four of anime's biggest subgenres - Action, Romance, Mecha and Fantasy.

    • The Race to WcDonald's (drops Feb. 26): A rivalry strong enough to withstand the test of time as our two heroes embark on an epic race to WcDonald's.
    • Love from Across the Booth (drops March 4): Our two protagonists discover the WcDonald's Sauce and WcNuggets aren't the only perfect pairing.
    • WcNuggets Space Frontier 3000 (drops March 11): A team of WcDonald's pilots must protect the last WcNugget against an ominous force.
    • The Wisdom of the Sauce (drops March 18): Three women are transported to a distant land to unravel the mystery surrounding the elusive sauce before it's gone forever.

    An Immersive Dining Experience at WcDonald's

    Taking inspiration from the isekai anime subgenre, McDonald's is transporting fans to the first IRL WcDonald's on March 9-10. The WcDonald's Immersive Dining Experience will be a multi-sensory dining experience in Los Angeles, - a genre-bending fusion of entertainment and food. Guests will be transported into the WcDonald's universe through 360 projection mapping and immersive tabletop projections inspired by the four WcDonald's anime episodic shorts – all while enjoying a set menu of WcDonald's items. Fans can reserve their spot exclusively on OpenTable starting Feb. 28 by searching "WcDonald's Immersive Dining Experience" on the OpenTable app or website. 

    A Celebration of Anime Fan Art 
    WcDonald's wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for the creativity of our fans. So, we're recognizing three up-and-coming anime artists who have created WcDonald's-themed artwork with grants to help fund their upcoming projects and a celebration at their local McDonald's. Additionally, the three artists will receive a one-on-one mentoring session with top manga artist/illustrator, Acky Bright.

    On Feb. 26, get ready for an anime-fueled adventure that starts with, "Welcome to WcDonald's, may I take your order?"

  • 2/25/2024

    Tropical Smoothie Cafe Rewards Financial Literacy

    tropical smoothie app game

    Greenlight Financial Technology, Inc.,  announced a new rewards program with Tropical Smoothie Cafe, to bring financial literacy game Greenlight Level Up  to more families for free.  Starting today, families can download the Greenlight app and play a selection of Level Up challenges with no Greenlight subscription required, while earning fun rewards for a limited time.

    Tropical Smoothie Cafe is the first brand to reward kids and teens for completing Level Up challenges in the Greenlight app. The program is designed to motivate kids to improve their financial knowledge and skills by rewarding them with a free 12-ounce kids smoothiewhen they or their referred friends complete 10 Level Up challenges in a learning quest.

    93% of teens believe they need financial knowledge and skills to achieve their life goals, and 97% of parents agree.  Still, only 35 states require a personal finance course for students, and teens score an average of 64% on the National Financial Literacy Test, showing a clear gap in financial education that is accessible and effective. Parents also rank personal finance as the #1 most difficult life skill to teach their children with 81% saying they wish they had more financial education tools and resources.

    Greenlight Level Up is an in-app financial literacy game with a curriculum to empower young people with money skills and confidence. Built by academic and game design experts, Level Up challenges are packed with bite-sized videos, quizzes, and minigames that keep kids and teens engaged.

    “Our collaboration with Greenlight aligns with our mission to Inspire Better  and help all kids shine bright. As the first brand providing rewards that are integrated into the Greenlight Level Up game, we look forward to the opportunity to reward hard working kids with a free 12 oz. kids smoothie,” said Deborah von Kutzleben, CMO of Tropical Smoothie Café, LLC. “Tropical Smoothie Cafe hopes to enhance Greenlight’s mission to improve financial education among kids by offering an incentive to learn about money.”

    Families can download the Greenlight app  to start playing a selection of Level Up challenges for free and earn rewards. The full suite of Level Up challenges are also available for free through Greenlight’s partner programs with banks, credit unions, and employers. 

  • 2/26/2024

    Stayntouch and Skipper Partner to Sell Hotel Rooms Directly to Guests

    stayntouch and skipper logos

    Stayntouch, a global leader in cloud hotel property management systems (PMS) and guest-centric technology, announced a partnership with Skipper, a leading booking engine provider. Stayntouch’s flexible cloud PMS integrates with Skipper to facilitate higher-margin direct conversions through the use of digital wallets and embedded shopping on the hotel’s website. 

    Stayntouch PMS transforms hotel operations and elevates service standards for independent properties and hotel chains. With advanced automation, comprehensive multi-property management tools, and an intuitive user interface, Stayntouch empowers staff to operate seamlessly and devote more time to guest interactions. 

    Skipper complements these capabilities by integrating a highly configurable booking engine that optimizes conversions, simplifies cross-selling, and boosts direct bookings. By enabling Stayntouch and Skipper together, hotels can offer guests a superior booking experience from shopping to check-out, including:

    • Increased operational efficiency by managing availability, rates, and inventory in one channel instead of multiple.
    • A streamlined booking experience that keeps guests on the hotel website while allowing them to book with less loading time and fewer clicks.
    • One-click booking with Apple and Google Pay.
    • Real-time fraud detection to reduce loss.
    • Performance insights with an informative analytics dashboard.
    • Cross-selling activities & ancillaries. After booking a room, 48 percent of guests click to book a table through embedded dining reservations.

    Jason Shames, CEO of Skipper, said, “We are proud to launch our partnership with Stayntouch. Our integration allows properties to sell their available inventory more efficiently directly from the property management system. Owners will immediately notice a faster booking engine producing higher profits due to more direct reservations, greater system efficiency, and lower distribution costs.”

    Jacob Messina, CEO of Stayntouch, said, “Optimizing every distribution channel is paramount for hotels striving to enhance margins and drive profitability. Pairing Skipper’s ability to increase top-line sales with Stayntouch’s automated distribution functionality is a powerful force that allows hotels to maximize their revenue potential.” 

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