Up until now, most of the conversation and innovation around drive-thru technology has been focused on AI voice assistants, which can help to take orders in the drive-thru lane and alleviate some labor pressures in the process. But geofencing and AI technology can also be used to speed up service by knowing when customers arrive. It can also be used to personalize guest experiences with a loyalty component in the drive-thru lane, like UKnoMi — an IoT-powered customer experience platform that can recognize people in the drive-thru lane that NRN spotted at the National Restaurant Association Show this year.
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop hopes to use some of this newer AI technology to speed up and personalize service as the New York City-based brand launches its first drive-thru location in Texas in 2024. Founder Stratis Morfogen said that the company is partnering with BlueDot to open a drive-thru lane with smartphone-enabled geofencing technology and personalized loyalty messages powered by voice AI.
In other news this month, Danny Meyer’s investment company is investing in technology startup Qu, tech vendors keep coming out with new generative AI features, and more.
Tech Tracker rounds up what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, vendors, digital platforms, and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and why:
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop opens drive-thru with smartphone-enabled technology
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop founder Stratis Morfogen announced that the company will be opening its first drive-thru location in Texas in 2024, and the location will be powered by smartphone-enabled AI technology from BlueDot – a quick-service drive-thru technology company. Instead of just enabling Brooklyn Dumpling Shop’s future drive-thru lanes with voice AI assistants, Morfogen said that it was crucial to try the latest tech available for the drive-thru lane with geofencing technology that can sense when customers enter the drive-thru lane and allow them to place orders hands-free.
“Everything is smartphone controlled, but the drive-thru customer never has to lift their phone and exercise the transaction,” he said. “As long as the phone is in geofencing it will pick up order and payment data and be able to process the transaction.”
The geofencing technology will save the customer approximately 20 seconds in the drive-thru lane, thereby reducing the length of customer lines. Morfogen also said the company will be enabling AI voice technology to create personalized messages for customers. As soon as a loyalty member enters the drive-thru lane, it will be able to sense the customer’s smartphone and create AI-powered messages and reminders about loyalty points.
“Our whole model is about less labor, a smaller footprint and leveraging tech to make our business more efficient,” he added. “This way, there is less employee error… we will have multiple car ports and will customize the message to the guest.”
This technology is also available currently in select Dunkin’ and KFC drive-thru lanes Once Brooklyn Dumpling Shop builds out this first tech-forward drive-thru lane in either Dallas or Austin, Morfogen said the company will build more in the future.
Enlightened Hospitality Investments invests in Qu startup
Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s investment firm, Enlightened Hospitality Investments, announced Wednesday an investment in startup technology platform Qu. In partnership with the Union Square Hospitality Group-affiliated investment group, Qu hopes to kickstart more product innovation, including in-store POS systems, kiosks, and digital ordering to drive-thru, KDS, and unified menu management.
“Qu’s technology embodies the essence of Enlightened Hospitality, enriching both the guest and employee journey,” Danny Meyer said in a statement. “By unifying the fractured digital and in-store ordering ecosystem, Qu creates a smoother, more efficient environment for valued restaurant team members, empowering them to deliver extraordinary guest experiences. The result is increased profitability and new revenue opportunities.”
Qu said that its other industry investors include COTA Capital, Bobby Cox Companies and NRD Capital.
“Qu’s success to date has been possible due to its unrelenting focus on the QSR and Fast Casual segments and the phenomenal support of its existing investors,” said Amir Hudda, Qu’s CEO said in a statement. “Having an industry leading voice from Danny Meyer as a new investor and partner will accelerate Qu’s vision for the QSR industry.”
Square, Lightspeed, and CurbIt add new AI features
As technology vendors make the shift to primarily AI-powered tools and capabilities, news of new generative AI-powered features — from analytics to menu creation — keeps breaking. Here is a roundup of top technology companies that announced new AI features this month:
- Square announced 10 new generative AI features in October, including a few restaurant-specific features like a menu generator, AI-generated background images for websites, ChatGPT-written email copy, AI team announcements, website copy generator, autogenerated kitchen categories for better KDS organization, and POS item descriptions.
- Lightspeed announced new OpenAI-backed generative AI tools including a menu generator that generates product information, creates AI-based menu images, and uses AI to auto-translate a restaurant’s menu into multiple languages. The company also released non-generative AI-based merchant analytics, like the Magic Menu Quadrant, that can inform operators about popular menu items.
- Curbit announced new AI-powered order throttling software, first rolled out in partnership with and available at 129 Smashburger locations. The feature synchronizes online order promise times with actual kitchen capacity, which allows customers to get real-time updates on their order and minimizes overall wait times.
Toast debuts new mobile app
Toast recently announced the release of the new Toast Now mobile app, giving operators mobile access to their tech stack, and allowing them to run their restaurants off-site. The operator-facing app includes such features as real-time sales and labor reporting; a manager log to keep track of daily operational challenges, updates, and coordinates; and a delivery channel that can help control kitchen flow. The company also released updates to its POS system, with a new advanced table management feature, and a dark mode capability that can help the POS better blend in in low lighting.
Many of these new features seem to be based on improved organizational capabilities to improve workflow and reduce chaos in the back of house, as tech vendors race to add ease of use to their suite of features, instead of creating additional complications.
Shake Shack invests in autonomous delivery
Shake Shack recently announced that the company has delved into the world of autonomous delivery in partnership with Motional through Uber Eats, using the company’s all-electric IONIQ 5 robotaxi. Motional has been partnered with Uber Eats for the past 18 months and Shake Shack is the company’s first national foodservice delivery partner.
Autonomous delivery has been ramping up in popularity over the past few years but has not caught on much beyond the pilot stage, so this is a major step toward autonomous delivery vehicles becoming more ubiquitous.