Chopt opened a store in Arlington, Virginia, Wednesday that optimizes labor and serves as a blueprint for a more sustainable future at the salad chain.
“We want to make sure that we are as environmentally friendly as possible without greenwashing,” Colin McCabe, Chopt co-founder and co-president, said.
The unit, which is the chain’s 83rd location, is about 40% smaller than a traditional Chopt restaurant. The location’s prep and food storage equipment have been similarly pared down to save energy, McCabe said.
The most notable equipment reduction? There’s no cash register. Though the restaurant’s layout still features its signature make line, it won’t serve diners from it in order to foster a speedy, contactless experience, McCabe said.
If customers want to order on-premise, they can do so at four touch screens set off from bar seating. The unit also accepts digital and phone orders, which can be collected from a series of shelves set into a wall.
Customers can still view salads being prepared, however, and that visibility is important to Chopt. The aesthetic experience of watching an employee throw fresh, colorful food into a bowl and dice it up is a draw for the chain.
“Focusing on speed is a key facet for it, but one thing that we really don't want to lose when we do that, is losing a sense of theater,” McCabe said.
This is Chopt’s second contactless restaurant — the first opened in New York City in 2019. For the next year, McCabe said, the salad chain will test iterations of the Arlington store design with different square footage and equipment to find a balance between speed and energy use to create a more efficient model.
Efficiency fueled by digital focus, more labor for prep
In the Arlington store, this balance is struck through the addition of fiber packaging, a higher-efficiency HVAC system and smaller equipment to save energy alongside revamped employee responsibilities.
“That kiosk eliminates the entire station that we would normally have,” Robin Brock, the chain’s district manager for Northern Virginia, said.
The unit will still employ as many workers — somewhere between 20 and 25 — as larger Chopt restaurants in her district, Brock said. But nixing the cash register will free up more workers to focus on fulfilling digital orders and running the back of house, said Telmen Buyan, the location’s general manager.
Changes in the labor market have impacted how Chopt hires, Brock said. Prior to the pandemic, all management had to do was see who had applied for jobs online. Now, Chopt restaurants are actively looking for staff.
“We're out handing out flyers, talking to people, calling old employees that may have gone on to do something else, [asking] ‘do you know anybody,’ and using social media,” Brock said.
When Restaurant Dive visited on Monday, employees — who began training about a month ago — were practicing making salads, packaging meals, and cleaning the make line. A construction worker tinkered with the HVAC unit. They were preparing for Chopt’s pre-opening tradition, Chopt Gives, wherein a restaurant will serve food the day before opening in exchange for charity donations.
The store will use its reallocated labor and new digital technologies to process the same number of sales other restaurants accrue, McCabe said. Brock expects the Arlington unit’s sales numbers to be similar to that of nearby stores, or somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per week.
“Our sales are not eroded by switching to more of a digital footprint,” McCabe said.