Automation will abound
Automation, from self-driving cars to burger-flipping robots, is no longer an idea reserved for dystopian movies set in the future. With labor pressures mounting in the restaurant industry, automation is something every operator is taking a hard look at.
In 2018, early adopters tapped a burger flipping robot called Flippy and a self-navigating “busboy” named Penny. Flippy, developed by Miso Robotics, is cooking burgers, fries and chicken tenders at CaliBurger in Pasadena, Calif., and Dodger Stadium. Penny is delivering food and drinks at a full-service pizzeria in San Francisco.
Domino’s continued to test self-driving cars this year. Self-serve craft beer bars are also on the rise. In late October, Pizza Hut introduced a mobile pizza truck equipped with an automated kitchen for cooking pizzas with no human interaction outside of the truck driver.
With minimum wage on the rise, expect to see more robots and self-serve machines acting as servers, cooks and bartenders next year.
Drones will deliver
Consolidation will continue in the hyper competitive third-party delivery space. Market leaders such as Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats and DoorDash will battle for domination. A differentiator in the space will be those that can add delivery through drones. Uber is already on the move, allegedly designing a drone delivery system called UberExpress that could be operational by 2021, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.
Uber better act fast because some restaurant operators are already making moves.
Pieology Pizzeria, a fast-casual pizza player based in Southern California, said it plans to pursue drone delivery in Connecticut. Flytrex, a Tel Aviv-based logistics company specializing in consumer goods and food drops by drone, launched in September a drone delivery program at a golf course in North Dakota. It has also expanded its drone service to 13 routes across Reykjavik, Iceland. Next up? The company is participating in a drone pilot program in North Carolina.
Apps will drive visits
The restaurant industry is starting to strategically use apps to earn loyalty — and brand buzz. McDonald’s and Starbucks pushed app-only promotions this year, including a revamped happy hour program at Starbucks. Panera Bread offered a new LTO, Bacon Mac & Cheese, for only delivery orders. Burger King ended the year with an app-specific stunt tied to its arch-rival, McDonald’s. To promote the revamped app, Burger King gave away a 1-cent Whopper to anyone standing within 600 feet of a McDonald’s while downloading the BK app. The stunt made the BK app the No. 1 most downloaded free app in the Apple App store in the first few days of the Dec. 4-12 promotion.
Expect brands to use their own apps, as well as third-party apps, to drive visits through loyalty programs and ridesharing incentives.