How Casual Dining Restaurants Can Leverage Technology

As casual dining brands continue to host virtual brands in their kitchens — while dealing with a tight workforce market — some operators are increasingly looking to technological innovations to make their kitchens faster and more efficient.

Chili’s Grill & Bar, the 1,592-unit division of Dallas-based Brinker International, has pulled back from early testing of customer-facing technologies like robotic servers and drone deliveries to focus on new kitchen equipment. Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, which has 70 locations in 14 states, is implementing a new kitchen display system that connects its front desk with kitchen staff to improve efficiency.

Chili’s, which has about 50 units, is looking to build out its tri-kitchen of the future with tech-enhanced grills and ovens to speed up cooking and improve consistency. The test officially rolled out in November, a spokesman said.

Brinker’s chief financial officer, Joe Taylor, said on a November earnings call that the new device will automate some back-office functions.


The test equipment included a programmable TurboChef three-deck oven for baking foods like pizza, ribs and quesadillas, and a double-sided griddle that doubles burgers, steaks, chicken and salmon with the touch of a button. baked. The oven cooks food 50% faster than a traditional conveyor belt version.

Brinker CEO and President Kevin Hochman said on an earnings call in August that the company is struggling to improve margins and that new buildings may not include as much in-store dining space, but instead be optimized for off-premises sales. This will include optimizing the kitchen, he said.

“We’re going to try to accelerate what we call the ‘future three kitchens,’ a device that will make it easier, faster, more consistent, and dramatically reduce cooking times for most of the items on our menu,” Hochman said. “We believe that increased speed of service with this device will lead to faster turntables and higher sales. As a result, we are actively looking at technology as a way to improve restaurant margins and productivity.”

The goal, says Hochman, is to remove friction between team members and guests.

“For team members, our kitchen hubs or our kitchen display systems can improve the order flow and there is a clear opportunity in the takeaway area, which is now 35 percent of our business,” Hochman said.

“If we can deploy it correctly in restaurants, we think guests might want to use the right technology to complete several tasks for themselves, such as seating, ordering, and paying,” he added. Time for our team members to complete these tasks for guests today.”

Chili is not alone.

Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux announced in January that it was investing in technology as it celebrated its 20th anniversaryday Anniversary, and working to improve the customer experience.

The award-winning brand is implementing a system-wide aggregator to consolidate third-party orders, partnering with Lunchbox to upgrade its online ordering and customer loyalty program, and introducing a partnership with cloud-based platform Toast to improve its point-of-sale and Kitchen display system technology.

“Investing in your tools is investing in your employees, guests and franchisees,” Walk-On’s vice president of technology Jared Hinshaw said in a statement. “Technological advancement is the wave of the future in every industry.”

Walk-On’s plans to launch a new loyalty program and smartphone app designed by Lunchbox in the first half of this year, with improved interface and back-end integration.

“For restaurants, the online guest experience is non-negotiable,” said Nabeel Alamgir, CEO and co-founder of Lunchbox. Expand every aspect of its technology and marketing. “

In addition to the upgraded Toast point-of-sale system, Walk-On’s is installing the Toast Kitchen Display System, connecting its front desk with kitchen staff to improve kitchen efficiency, and launching the Toast Go 2 mobile handheld POS device for tableside and curbside use in current and future locations.

Toast Go 2 sends orders directly to the kitchen display system, which improves service speed and allows staff to serve more guests than previous platforms, the company said.

The new technology is planned to be rolled out in phases at existing locations throughout the year and will be installed in all new restaurants, the company said.

Carriers and customers alike are interested in the technology, according to a recent survey by business platform Lightspeed. It surveyed 1,100 restaurateurs and 7,000 consumers in September and October 2022 and found that 57% of respondents agreed that the adoption of new technologies over the past two years has been critical to their business survival.

Forty-three percent of restaurateurs surveyed by Lightspeed said they have fewer employees than they used to.

About a third, or 30% of respondents, are limiting days or hours of operations, especially during slower economic months, to help offset costs from inflation and retain understaffed crews.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based PF Chang’s Chinese Bistro, which has 200 locations domestically and more than 300 systemwide, is utilizing a new kitchen inventory management system to save time and reduce waste.

PF_Chang_s_PerimeterBistro-PressRelease-2400x900.jpgPF Chang’s deployed inventory and operations management platform Crunchtime to help manage profitability. “We have reduced the discrepancy between theoretical and actual food costs,” a spokesman said.

The Asian-inspired concept also implemented Zenput to improve team execution at each restaurant.

“It simplifies operational procedures and focuses on food safety,” a spokesman said. “It’s able to assign tasks to each restaurant and identify areas for improvement. It helps with menu training and is a resource for restaurant leaders to strategically address the optimizations they want to make.”

Contact Ron Ruggless [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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