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How the pandemic is speeding up tech adoption at BurgerFi

The fast casual is experimenting with robots, self-ordering kiosks and more to battle labor pressures facing the industry.
BurgerFi
Photograph: Shutterstock

Having a robot working in the dining room was a distant thought for BurgerFi. That is, until the pandemic helped fuel staffing shortages for the fast-casual burger chain and the entire restaurant industry.

“It’s much easier to say robots will be here in 10 years when the average wage is $7.25,” said Karl Goodhew, BurgerFi’s chief technology officer. “Now we’re creeping up … and the cost of robotics is coming down. It’s accelerating and probably going to be here really quickly.”

Enter Patty the Robot, which rolled into the dining room earlier this month at a BurgerFi location in Jupiter, Fla. Patty delivers meals to tables, returns used trays to the kitchen and shares “quirky phrases” such as “Hey, get out of the way!” with customers, Goodhew said.

Patty the Robot

Patty the Robot / Photo courtesy BurgerFi

“In reality, what it is doing is helping our labor, reducing the strain,” he said. “It’s still in pilot mode … But it is viable from a cost perspective.”

BurgerFi hasn’t deployed robots in the kitchen yet but they may be on the way, he added.

“That may be coming,” he said. “We wanted to focus on areas of opportunity we can tackle very quickly.”

Last month, 116-unit BurgerFi trimmed its new store estimate for the year because of supply and labor shortages. The chain had planned to open up to 30 new locations this year but revised that down to 18.

So, finding tech-enabled solutions is key for the brand.

In addition to Patty the Robot, BurgerFi is testing self-ordering kiosks. So far, a majority of customers are choosing kiosks over counter ordering, and they’re ordering more when they do, Goodhew said.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “That’s in select stores but we’ve already seen great success with it. I think we’re going to quickly expand with that.”

Plus, diners are tipping at the kiosks at the same rate they do at the POS, he said. The staff shares the tips.

BurgerFi is also testing QR code ordering at the table, which allows customers to order additional items, such as a shake, after placing an initial order.

“They don’t have to get up and rejoin the line,” he said. “All around, it just eases the experience. It’s really helping BurgerFi with additional sales.”

 

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