BurgerFi announced that it’s testing in-car ordering, a dining room robot, and a list of other innovative technologies as it rushes to stay ahead of labor shortages and evolving consumer preferences. 

The fast casual claims it will be the first restaurant to launch in-car ordering through new 5G cars debuting next summer. It will do so through a partnership with Mavi.io, an in-car retail marketplace that curates shopping options on an interactive vehicle dashboard. The process could start by a driver verbally telling the car they’re hungry, and the vehicle will respond with the best nearby options. The car then places and monitors the order, coordinates navigation to the pickup destination, and notifies the restaurant when the customer arrives. 

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BurgerFi is also one month into the debut of Patty the Robot, an automated machine that serves meals to tables and returns trays to the kitchen. The company said the robot is programmed to understand the restaurant layout and interact with customers. The innovation is being tested at a store in Jupiter, Florida. 

“Patty may be the answer to employee shortages across the hospitality industry,” Karl Goodhew, BurgerFi’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “By integrating automation with human operations, we give our employees the support they need and our guests the experience they crave. Our employees will always be the most important part of the guest experience, and robots allow them to continue to focus on great hospitality.”

To further optimize service in the dining room and reduce wait times, the brand is piloting QR code ordering at tables and self-ordering kiosks. 

“While the entire restaurant industry faces macro headwinds, BurgerFi is determined to be resilient and forward-thinking,” Goodhew said. “Leveraging technology is a key factor in delivering guest and employee happiness.”

BurgerFi is part of a growing number of brands looking for ways to mitigate labor pressures while also catering to consumers’ growing need for convenience. For example, Chipotle recently announced the upcoming debut of its first drive-thru only digital kitchen in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Chipotlanes, which are drive-thru lanes for mobile ordering, launched in 2018 and open with 15 percent higher sales. In fast food, Taco Bell recently unveiled a new 3,000-square-foot “Defy” prototype that features four drive-thru lanes, including one traditional lane and three others specifically for mobile or delivery order pickups. 

In the pizza category, automated kiosks are starting to proliferate. Fast casual 800 Degrees Pizza is partnering with Piestro to roll out 3,600 machines in the next five years. The companies are leveraging a hub and spoke model in which hubs (brick-and-mortar restaurants and ghost kitchens) will double as commissaries for multiple kiosks in hotel lobbies, college campuses, and other high-traffic areas.

Fast Casual, Story, Technology, BurgerFi