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Sweetgreen’s new model will evolve and expand its menu

The fast casual’s next-gen store offers a testing ground for ideas that go beyond the bowl.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Decision paralysis often plagues newcomers as they wait their turn to order at Sweetgreen, the fast casual known for its healthy, farm-sourced salads. Some of the ingredients are unfamiliar and the assembly-line format can cause stress. Even regulars tend to order the same salad every time, “because it’s hard to get people to gamble on a $12 lunch,” says Michal Stebner, Sweetgreen’s director of culinary.

Sweetgreen aims to address that challenge and others with its new store model, slated to launch in New York City this fall. Internally referred to as Sweetgreen 3.0, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, the bilevel space will fuse high-tech with high-touch to create a more personalized experience.

“We’ll open with a [digital] menu that is twice as big as our current [chalkboard] one, but it will have more of a cascading approach and be divided into more categories,” Stebner revealed to Restaurant Business.Advanced AI capabilities will eventually personalize choices to individual tastes to help regulars branch out and create meals that fit guests’ nutritional guidelines.

On the high-touch side, customers will order from concierges equipped with iPads instead of stressing out while waiting on line; in-store kiosks and online and app ordering are also available. Assembly line-style prep of orders is out—everything will be composed back-of-house. While guests wait, they can sample a new dressing, drink or salad ingredient from a tasting counter built into the new model or watch live cooking in a centrally located display kitchen.

“We want to create an experience for guests while they wait,” says Stebner.

Branching out from the bowl is another of Stebner’s goals. “We want to offer more dinner-oriented items … deconstruct salads and bowls into a plate of food with lots of vegetables,” he says. Sweetgreen experimented with plated entrees in its Los Angeles test location earlier this year, focusing on protein. Stebner is also devoting some R&D to sandwiches, shareables and experiential desserts, he says.

“Once the New York City store is open and completely digitized, we can do more cooking to order, too,” says Stebner. “Our hope is to create a restaurant where we can test things quickly in a live environment.”

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