You hear that? That buzzing? That’s the chattering around the restaurant concepts everybody was talking about this year. From a frictionless convenience store to a well-capitalized salad chain, most all of these noteworthy concepts are incorporating technology in a major way to fuel their growth. Here are the operations that took the industry by storm in 2018.
1. No cashiers needed
Online retailing Goliath Amazon has ambitious plans for its frictionless convenience store concept, Amazon Go. With no lines and no checkout, customers just swipe a QR code from the Amazon Go app upon entering and everything taken out of the store gets tallied and charged to their linked Amazon account. Sure, it’s not a traditional restaurant, but fast casuals should heed its appeal for time-pressed lunch-goers, who can grab a salad, sandwich or a bag of chips in virtually no time. Amazon has plans to open thousands of the high-tech c-stores, including a number of mini versions, in building lobbies and hospitals.
2. Big bucks for robot pizza
Robotic pizza brand Zume raised $375 million in 2018, giving it a valuation of $2.25 billion. The massive cash influx will allow the company to expand both its own company and bring its logistics to other restaurants. Zume, which cooks and delivers robot-made pizzas in trucks outfitted with ovens, also delivers its pizzas in recyclable, compostable “pods” made of sugar cane fiber. The pizza is currently available in the tech-centric cities around Palo Alto, Calif.
3. Vending machine salads
Like Amazon Go, Farmer’s Fridge also isn’t a traditional restaurant company. The 5-year-old Chicago-based venture, which secured $30 million in funding earlier this year, sells jarred salads in refrigerated vending machines. The funding will allow the company to add another 400 to 500 locations in the Midwest to its current unit count of around 350. As much a tech company as it is a salad company, Farmer’s Fridge collects data to predict consumption and adjust its supply chain.
4. Software and salads
Fast-casual salad outfit Sweetgreen nabbed $200 million in funding in November, bringing its total valuation to a whopping $1 billion. The 90-unit Los Angeles-based concept plans to use the money, in part, to fuel its already robust tech platforms. The moves will focus on consumer personalization and blockchain to develop a transparent supply chain. Sweetgreen also plans to expand its innovative Outpost delivery platform to office buildings.
5. More tortas
Tortas Frontera’s three outposts at O’Hare International Airport and one at the University of Pennsylvania are expected to get some company following a nearly $13 million investment in September by Jollibee Foods Corp. Jollibee, which currently operates 436 restaurant locations in North America, including Smashburger, Jollibee, Red Ribbon and Chowking, is the largest foodservice operator in the Philippines. It’s seeking to boost its U.S. presence with its 47% stake in Tortas Frontera, a concept run by celebrity chef Rick Bayless that focuses on the griddle-baked Mexican sandwiches called tortas.