Editor’s note: This article has been updated with details from Brinker International.
- Brinker International has paused a robotics test with Bear Robotics, which deployed server robots at 61 Chili’s restaurants, CEO Kevin Hochman said Wednesday during Brinker’s earnings call.
- Instead, the company will accelerate deployment of its “Kitchen of the Future 3” equipment, which includes technology that will consistently reduce cook times on a majority of menu items, he said.
- Brinker wants its technology to boost margins, which fell to 10.3% compared to 16.9% during the year-ago quarter due to inflation’s impact on food and labor costs, CFO Joe Taylor said on the call.
After Hochman became CEO, he met with leadership to determine which technologies could best impact the company’s sales and profits over the next few years. Now it appears Brinker is unsure if projects like Bear Robotics’ Rita the Robot are worth the investment.
“We're going to stop some of those projects that we just didn't have a line of sight to a return on the business, but we're going to double down and accelerate the ones that we think will have a more meaningful impact on restaurant margins and a quicker impact on our business,” Hochman said.
While restaurants with Ritas will continue to use them to host, buss, run food and sing birthday songs, they will not be introduced in new Chili’s restaurants, a Brinker International spokesperson said in an email to Restaurant Dive. The company saw great test results, but is shifting its focus to “prioritizing and acting on simplification ideas and growth opportunities to strengthen the core Chili’s business, improve retention and deliver a better [team member] and guest experience,” the spokesperson said.
By contrast, Brinker believes its Kitchen of the Future 3 equipment could cut down table turn times and drive higher sales, he said. The company will make a decision on a full-scale rollout of this initiative after further testing, a spokesperson said. The company is seeking opportunities to reduce back-of-house friction and offer a better guest experience, by improving kitchen display systems to optimize order flow at the to-go area. To-go items make up 35% of the company’s business, Hochman said. Brinker is also looking to improve its mobile order sites to make checkout faster and secure more repeat customers.
In addition, Brinker is testing how to offload certain restaurant operations — such as seating guests, ordering and payment —from employees to diners themselves to free up staff, he said.