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Front and back of house tech is becoming more automated.

Tech Tracker: Automation has become the biggest selling point of restaurant technology

Big names in tech are in a race to automate the most front- and back-of-house tasks for labor-challenged operators, from Oracle to Paytronix and more

Automation technology in the foodservice industry doesn’t necessarily have to look like robots flipping burgers or delivering drinks to customers. In fact, as we’ve written about in the past, the latest advances in restaurant technology are often focused on non-customer-facing back of the house tasks, or “invisible technology” that can help eliminate menial tasks for restaurant workers or make repetitive office duties go much smoother.

This month, the newest features announced by big names in restaurant tech support that thesis: restaurants don’t want to be devoid of humans, they just want to upgrade from analog pen-and-paper processes to AI-supported operations. From Galley implementing new automated inventory tracking features, to Paytronix “hiring” ChatGPT to engage with customer feedback, technology vendors are in a race to offer the most useful task automation features to help operators.

In other news this month, Serve Robotics (the sidewalk delivery robot company) is going public, Chipotle founder Steve Ells raised $36 million for his new restaurant concept run mainly by robots, and more.

Tech Tracker rounds up what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, vendors, digital platforms, and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and why:

Paytronix, Galley, and more introduce new automation features to restaurant partners

This month, several tech vendors introduced new features that tap into technology like ChatGPT to help automate tasks that previously had to be done by a human.

  • Paytronix online ordering platform added Chat GPT capabilities to its guest communications channels, allowing operators to automate responses to guest reviews on the brand's app, much like SwipeBy’s new features, which we covered last month. One operator, Chris Scheffler at Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop said of the service, “anything we can do to save our operators time while also delivering much needed communication to our guests is a win-win.”
  • Oracle- Although the tech company did not announce new automation features this month, they did have two new client wins: both Wendy’s and Waffle House are using Oracle’s cloud-based business software for restaurants. Like many of their tech vendor colleagues out there, Oracle is looking to offer automated features for tasks operators don’t want to do manually, like finance management, HR, supply chain, and customer experience data on one platform with automated insights and analytics.
  • Galley Solutions announced new features for its culinary operating systems, including automated inventory reporting (theoretical v. actual) invoice scanning, and a production scheduler which breaks down recipes into tasks for kitchen staff and Galley says has been especially useful for large-scale orders in catering and on college campuses.
  • Thanx just announced automated reporting dashboard features for its loyalty suite, which analyzes loyalty program performance like customer capture rate, member activation rate, retention rate, and discount rate. These new analytics are supposed to help operators discover in real-time if their loyalty program is capturing guest attention or not.

The pattern here is that business reports and analytics, which used to have to be recorded and calculated by hand, can now be completed by AI and fact-checked by humans, and tech companies want to be the first to perfect these types of solutions for restaurants.  

White Castle adds voice ordering to 100 restaurants

White Castle announced that the company is adding AI voice ordering to more drive-thru lanes through its partnership with voice AI platform, SoundHound, which will bring the total number of AI-powered drive-thru restaurants up to 100 — or more than one-quarter of White Castle’s total portfolio — by the end of 2024. Many of these restaurants will run (and be supported by AI) 24/7.

“White Castle is committed to investing in the best available technology to create welcoming and enjoyable drive-thru experiences for our customers,” Mike Guinan, vice president, operations services for White Castle, said in a statement. “Our partnership with SoundHound has allowed us to be first movers in this space and we’re excited to do even more to satisfy cravers everywhere. Working together, we’ll be able to deliver the drive-thru experience of tomorrow today.”

Serve Robotics goes public

Serve Robotics — the sidewalk delivery robotic company — announced this month that the autonomous technology company has raised $30 million, led by Uber among other investors, before it went public this month, bringing the total raised funds to $56 million. The technology company went public in a reverse merger with a blank-check company called Patricia Acquisition Corp.

With the new financing, Serve hopes to enter new markets and improve it AI technology, as well as achieve its goal of deploying up to 2,000 sidewalk delivery robots with Uber Eats. After completion of the merger, Uber now owns a 16.2% stake in the company, while Nvidia owns an 11% stake in the company.

"Serve's delivery volume has grown over 30% month-over-month on average for the past 18 months,” Dr. Ali Kashani, Co-founder and CEO of Serve said in a statement. “Becoming a public company provides broader access to capital, supporting our continued growth as we ramp up our partnership with the world's largest food delivery platform and expand other enterprise partnerships."

This is a huge deal for the tech industry, as more restaurant tech companies continue to raise enough money to file for IPOs, like labor automation company Presto, which went public in September 2022, alongside the major food delivery companies, DoorDash, Uber, and Grubhub parent, Just Eat Takeaway, which have all been public companies for a long time.

Chipotle founder Steve Ells raised $36 million for his automated restaurant

Chipotle founder Steve Ells began pitching investors on an idea earlier this year for a semi-automated restaurant run by mostly robots with as few as three humans in a compact space to “provide automation with a human touch” to the quick-service restaurant industry, as originally reported by The New York Post. The restaurant, called Kernel, has raised $36 million in series A funding, securing investments from investors that include Raga Partners, Willoughby Capital, Rethink Foods and Virtru, according to The New York Times Dealbook.

The robot-run restaurant will be launching this fall in New York City and could open 15 locations in the area over the next two years. Other than a focus on plant-based ingredients, very little is known about the concept.

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