Chipotle tests forecasting tech to ensure guests never have to wait for workers to cook more steak

Also the brand is testing a more advanced guest locator and Chippy the robot tortilla fryer is ready for an in-store test.
Chipotle is testing a system that can forecast how much to cook and when. /Photo courtesy of Chipotle.

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Tuesday unveiled the pilot of two more-advanced technology systems designed to speed throughput and improve the digital and in-store guest experience.

In eight Southern California locations, Chipotle is testing a “cook-to-needs” kitchen management system designed to minimize food waste by forecasting what is needed on the makelines and when.

Powered by PreciTaste, the system uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to monitor ingredient levels in real time and notifies the crew about how much to prep and cook, and when to start cooking, to optimize throughput and keep ingredients fresh.

According to its website, PreciTaste technology uses 3D sensors to monitor food pans and order assembly. It also tracks inventory and analyzes traffic patterns to better forecast demand. The system can take into account variables like weather and local events, and the monitors also help with portion control.

“The new kitchen management system has alleviated manual tasks for our crew and given restaurant managers the tools they need to make informed in-the-moment decisions, ultimately enabling them to focus on an exceptional culinary and an outstanding guest experience,” said Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief technology officer, in a statement.

At the same time, Chipotle is also testing advanced location-based technology to improve its app functionality, or what the brand calls a “contextual restaurant experience” program.

For digital guests who opt in, the system allows restaurants to recognize app users when they arrive. Those guests will see real-time messages about things like when their order is ready, or it can detect a wrong pick-up location. It can also remind Rewards users to scan their QR codes at checkout.

The contextual restaurant program uses Radius Networks’ Flybuy platform, and is being tested at 73 units in Cleveland, Ohio.

The company said early results indicate the program helps boost performance with more in-store rewards engagement, order notifications and efficiencies for third-party delivery drivers.

“Empowering our restaurants with advanced technologies is critical for operational excellence and better positions our teams for our ambitious growth plans,” said Scott Boatwright, Chipotle’s chief restaurant officer, in a statement.

Flybuy is used by brands like Applebee’s, Panera, Wendy’s, KFC and more to help locate guests in the drive-thru for curbside pickup or in restaurants.

And, in addition to the new pilots, Chipotle said Tuesday its previously announced robotic tortilla fryer named Chippy is ready for its in-restaurant test.

Chippy has been learning chip-making skills so far at the chain’s Cultivate Center in Newport Beach, Calif. But next month it will start cooking in a Fountain Valley, Calif., location while it goes through the brand’s stage-gate process to determine a possible rollout.

Chippy is designed to take on a task human team members don’t like: frying tortilla chips.

But the kitchen management system and contextual restaurant program are tech investments to speed throughput and fundamentally improve the guest experience, which has been a focus as the 3,000-unit chain works to reach 7,000 units across North America.

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