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In the battle of “man versus machine,” restaurants win

In the battle of 'man versus machine,' restaurants win

Automation offers efficiency, ticket lift and data — and it’s cool

This is part of Nation’s Restaurant News' special coverage of the 2018 MUFSO conference, taking place Oct. 1-3 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Dallas. Follow coverage of the event on and tweet with us using #MUFSO. Stay connected on the go by downloading the MUFSO app.

Geoff Alexander, president of Wow Bao, said his life changed when he went to vote in the 2008 election.

After waiting in line to get into a polling station, then facing long lines at the booth itself, Alexander was directed to a digital voting booth for the first time. “It was like, ding, ding, ding, and I was out in seconds. I thought to myself, ‘Why aren’t we doing this in restaurants?’”

Soon at Wow Bao they were. The Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises-founded concept in Chicago began exploring the use of self-ordering kiosks, first as an alternative to ordering at the counter. Now all new Wow Bao stores will be more automated, allowing guests to order from their smart phones or on in-store kiosks, with food being placed in animated LED-lit cubbies for pick up.

Alexander was one of four panelists sharing their experiences with automation in a session titled “Man versus Machine.”

Though the move toward automation has allowed Wow Bao to save on labor by eliminating cashiers, Alexander said, “We did not get rid of people.”

Wow Bao, for example, has a front-of-the-house host available to help guests or answer questions. Because guests move more quickly through the process, expediters are less harried and therefore more hospitable.

Brian Berger, CEO of the new virtual food hall Sous Vide Kitchen in New York agreed, saying his concept was developed to improve both food safety and product consistency at a time of higher labor costs and a shrinking labor pool.

The company was founded in 2012 with the fast-casual concept BONMi, offering Vietnamese-inspired baguettes and bowls. Developing tech systems for BONMi led Berger to explore the launch of other concepts for delivery-only. At Sous Vide Kitchen, guests can use a bank of kiosks to order from the menu of four concepts, all prepared from the same efficient kitchen.

Keith Faigin, vice president of digital for Little Caesars, said his company last week rolled out the new Pizza Portals in most units, which he called “the world’s first heated self-service mobile order pick-up station.”

Guests can order a customized pizza online or at a kiosk and the crew puts the pizza in a heated portal. The customer uses a QR code or three-digit code to open the portal to pull out their order.

“We took what we wanted to be a 30-second transaction and now it’s a five to seven-second transaction,” he said. “It’s efficient for the crew. And it is just generally cool.”

Kris Bartel, chief business development officer for Zivelo, said he does not recommend that restaurant operators see kiosks as a labor solution. Rather, he said his clients see a return on investment through ticket lift, often up to a 20 percent to 30 percent increase.

Not only can the technology improve throughput, automated ordering systems are guaranteed to upsell, always asking if a customer wants fries, for example, when a human may forget.

The panelists also noted the potential for data collection. Wow Bao, for example, asks guests for an email, which the company then uses for targeted marketing.

“The data supply is unbelievable,” said Alexander.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

The MUFSO bag insert sponsors are Jones Dairy Farm, Clemens Foodservice, Merisant, Gamay Food Ingredients and NRAEF

The track sponsors are Daiya and Omnivore

The track & session sponsors are Shift Pixy, MGH, Conversant, Oracle America, Inc., Zivelo, APSM Systems, Bringg and Ventura Foods

Breakfast is sponsored by Brill

Breaks are sponsored by Royal Cup and Smoothie King

The Hot Concepts celebration is sponsored by V&V Supremo Foods, Fonterra Foodservices (USA), Inc., Thomas Foods International and Impossible Foods

The lanyard sponsor is Clemens Foodservice

The hotel key sponsor is Matthew’s Real Estate

Shake, Sparkle & Stir is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company

The Kitchen Hero Cook-off is sponsored by Texas Pete

The offsite tour of Legacy Hall is sponsored by Corrigo

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