Chipotle announced Tuesday it’s testing an automated digital makeline in collaboration with an advanced robotics company it invested in more than a year ago.
Here’s how the robotic system works: First, the digital order would be placed via the app, website, or a delivery platform. If the order is a bowl or salad, it would be routed to the robotic system. Bowl and salad entrées move through the bottom of the makeline where ingredients are automatically dispensed. At the same time, an employee uses the top part of the makeline to create burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and kid’s meals for the same digital order. The completed item would be raised from the bottom makeline and an employee would place a lid on the entrée and add any side items.
The system was designed and built by Hyphen, “a foodservice platform designed to help restaurant owners, operators, and budding chefs move their business forward by automating kitchen operations.” Chipotle injected capital into the company last year as part of “Cultivate Next,” a $50 million venture aimed at supporting seed to Series B stage operations, including tech and innovation.
The automated makeline is being tested at the Chipotle Cultivate Center in Irvine, California. Roughly 65 percent of digital orders are bowls or salads. Meaning, the robotic platform could not only free up employees to help with the front makeline and provide enhanced hospitality, but also increase capacity and accuracy for digital orders during peak periods.
“Chipotle’s new digital makeline built by Hyphen embodies our commitment to leveraging robotics to unlock the human potential of our workforce, ensuring an elevated dining experience for our guests,” Curt Garner, chief customer and technology officer, said in a statement. “Our goal is to have the automated digital makeline be the centerpiece of all our restaurants’ digital kitchens.”
In addition to its investment in Hyphen, Chipotle is backing Vebu, a product development company working to create “intelligent automation and technology solutions.” The two sides partnered to create the Autocado, a robot prototype that automatically cuts, cores, and peels avocados.
Chipotle is one of several quick-service chains diving further into automation to optimize labor. Earlier this year, Sweetgreen officially opened a store with its Infinity Kitchen, a robotic production line that completes 100 percent of orders.
Chipotle’s Q2 same-store sales climbed 7.4 percent, year-over-year, inclusive of over 4 percent traffic and 3 percent average check—5.5 percent price from lapping 4 percent-plus at the end of March.
The brand opened 47 locations in the quarter—40 included Chipotlanes—and exited the period with 3,268 units. This year calls for 255–285 new venues.