Over the past year, consumer behavior and demand continuously shifted due to the unpredictable ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many restaurants adapted their operations on the fly to best meet the needs of their consumers. Today, consumers want safe, convenient and contactless service and Box’d, a fully automated restaurant concept, spent the past year and a half perfecting its uniquely resilient business model to best satisfy that demand. Now, the brand is emerging on the other side of the pandemic with a proven path to restaurant success in the “new normal.”

Box’d, which opened in Toronto in June 2020 under Canadian restaurant operator and franchisor Paramount Fine Foods, allows customers to order directly from their phones, computers or an in-store kiosk. The orders are sent to kitchen line chefs and, in less than 10 minutes, the customers’ names show up on an electronic screen above a wall of glass cubbies, notifying the customers that their orders are ready. Customers retrieve their freshly prepared, sealed meal that’s ready to go.

After a year and a half, Box’d established itself as a popular destination in the Toronto area for customers seeking fast, made-to-order meals and the restaurant gathered key insights into its success along the way.

For one, finding the appropriate technology was key to navigate a concept of this kind. Prior to launching, Box’d partnered with Givex, the global IT platform. The integration of Givex’s omni-channel tech-platform became a huge advantage as Box’d developed its model as a hands-free, self-serve delivery option with as few suppliers as possible. Leaning on Givex for a whole suite of services including its ordering kiosk, POS system, kitchen display system, online ordering, loyalty programs and more, Box’d was able to move forward with confidence in its streamlined operations.

What’s more, the use of this technology provided a superior experience due to minimal waiting times and less contact in an effort to provide made-to-order food in a safe, contactless environment. Givex technology helped Box’d create a seamless ordering system that completely removed face-to-face interaction with team members, which was in high demand during the pandemic.

When it comes to sourcing staff, Box’d has always promoted its technology as a way to make jobs easier for team members, rather than reducing the number of employees needed. While automation is often associated with cutbacks, Box’d learned to implement its technology to successfully streamline operations and add more skilled chefs to the kitchen, as opposed to limiting the amount of people working in the restaurant. This strategy allows guests to receive their food quicker than at other automated competitors, with Box’d able to serve up to 18 guests at a time. It also allowed Box’d to keep its valued team members employed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s another key insight from the past year: customers adapted to the pandemic and changed their behaviors permanently. Although Canada was shut down for a large part of the past year and downtown offices were operating at exceedingly low capacity, Box’d still saw a steadily growing demand for online orders and cubby pickups.

And now, as more employees return to the office, they’re still going to want to be able to pick up healthy, chef-driven meals quickly and with limited contact. As a result of its ongoing success, Box’d has already received several franchisee inquiries in surrounding areas, and the team is looking towards expanding into Toronto and other Canadian urban centres.

Looking ahead, many customers are still going to want to avoid direct contact and adhere to social and physical distancing guidelines whenever possible. This means that the restaurant industry is likely to see a boom in automated concepts like Box’d that can thrive in smaller-footprint spaces while delivering fresh, consistent and contactless meals to eager customers. Eventually, Box’d hopes to operate without any front-of-house staff, which would allow the entire operation to focus solely on the kitchen. But, for now, Box’d is continuing to thrive and safely serve customers in this strange, new world.

Karalyn White is the executive director of corporate affairs at Paramount Foods, the company behind Box’d.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology