Cava Grill Photos courtesy of Cava Grill

Cava Grill uses electronic sensors to ease operations

Technology helps fast-casual chain plot pain points

Cava Grill is using electronic-sensor technology to improve operations at its 24 restaurants. 

Josh Patchus, chief data scientist for the Rockville, Md.-based fast-casual chain, said a platform of sensors is giving the operator data to help ease bottlenecks, ensuring proper staffing based on traffic, and even providing information for the supply chain.

“You have to understand your customers,” Patchus told Nation’s Restaurant News, explaining how the company uses data to make sure it has a return on investment. “That’s what our sensors tell us. Our ROI really isn’t today; our ROI is years from now.”

Cava Grill’s motion sensors detect where customers congregate and sit, and how long they stay. Based on that data, the chain has changed the number of tables in certain areas, and the number of seats per table.

Other environmental sensors detect noise levels, temperature and lighting in restaurants to identify potential pain points and optimize the customer experience.

For example, if registers are too close to the grill, making it difficult to hear orders, the operations team can reposition equipment. 

Patchus said Cava Grill has been deploying the sensors for about six months. 

There are two motion sensors: One that is similar to a camera, and another that detects motion.

“We started with the pure motion one, which is kind of like what you might have in your backyard, and when you walk by it the light comes on,” Patchus said. 

There are also sensors for temperature and light, with the intent to see which parts of the restaurant were busiest and during which time of day or night.  

“We wanted to find the hotspots in the restaurant,” he said.

The data team has found that seating in larger restaurants, especially two units with the dining room divided on two floors, has patterns through the day, Patchus said. At lunch, the second-floor dining area is much busier than at dinner. 

“One of the most obvious ways we are using this is when to know to look for trash,” Patchus said. “Service staff can be scheduled to go up every 15 or 20 minutes to make sure tables are clean and make sure the trash is taken out.” 

Over the past six month, Cava Grill’s data team has expanded its sensor platforms, Patchus said. 

“You can buy a kit that includes a lot of sensors, like sonar for underwater,” he said. “But the ones we started with were laser-based, and then we went to sound, which is a decibel reader. There’s also temperature and motion.

Costs vary, Patchus said. The base hardware is about $50 for each restaurant and $10 for each sensor. 

“The tricky part is the analytics,” Patchus said. “All the sensors do is feed into a database. You have to have someone who can read the database and plot the data.” 

Cava Grill has three sets of sensors that it can deploy to various restaurants as needed.

So far, the operator’s data team has matched hours and customer counts to help provide information for staffing.

“We have been able to chart the path of guests and where they are making their purchases,” Patchus said.

The company is also gathering data for the self-serve juice and soda station to understand customer refill and consumption rates by calculating return traffic to the station.

Using motion data that determined when people leave the line, Cava Grill is also close to pegging down how long the order line is before people choose to leave the restaurant and go somewhere else. 

“We now have data that will tell us that if we can add an employee and get an extra 20 or 30 people through the queue, what effect it will have on sales,” Patchus said. “We now know if there are 10 more customers that actually want to come through the line but decided not to because it’s too long.” 

The sensor platforms are among other more traditional tools Cava Grill uses to improve operations. 

“Sensors are pretty boring, honestly, but it’s when you install a sensor program that you can do a lot with it,” Patchus said.

But using the data is not itself an answer to operations problems, Patchus said.

“It’s really finding out what frustrates people and preventing that from happening,” he said. “It’s customer retention rather than customer acquisition.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

TAGS: Fast Casual
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