- Wavemaker Labs on Tuesday announced the launch of Wing Zone Labs in collaboration with chicken wing concept Wing Zone. Wing Zone Labs functions under a franchise agreement with the restaurant chain, and aims to implement front-and-back-of-house automation in Wing Zone units.
- Wing Zone Labs has exclusive rights to the Southern California market covering Los Angeles, and plans to open up to 20 locations, the first of which is slated for this year. These restaurants will deploy Miso’s Flippy 2 to handle frying stations. Over time, Wing Zone Labs plans to fully automate the rest of the restaurants' operations.
- In recent months, many restaurant chains have increased investment in robotics and automation, in part to fill continued labor gaps.
This isn't Wing Zone's first foray into automation — last year, the chain rolled out a redesigned kitchen with robotic fry cooks, self-order kiosks and cubbies for pickup orders. But allowing Wing Zone Labs to scale similar technology as a franchisee could give the restaurant insights into whether this approach could be successful systemwide.
“Bringing in an innovation juggernaut like Wavemaker Labs to not only establish a one-of-a-kind franchisee but also help expand the use of tech and automation within our company is a huge step for us in our quest to create the franchise of the future,” David Bloom, Wing Zone’s chief development and operating officer, said in a statement.
The chicken chain is one of many restaurant companies investing in time- and labor-saving technology. Fifty percent of restaurant operators plan to implement some form of automated technology in the next two to three years. Wing Zone Labs aims to raise up to $10 million in seed capital via equity crowdfunding, which could fund further technology development as the partnership allows Wavemaker Labs to "evaluate and test new software and hardware in real restaurant environments to seamlessly integrate across locations," Kevin Morris, president of Wavemaker Labs and CFO of Miso Robotics, said in a statement.
A fully automated kitchen would be designed to eliminate contact between employees and food and drink preparation, minimizing waste and lowering operational costs, Wing Zone said in a statement. In the future, the company may bring on new technology partners in addition to Wavemaker Labs and Miso Robotics. The company expects the goal of a fully automated kitchen to take years.
Several restaurant tech companies have launched products to automate the restaurant business by integrating POS, inventory and management systems, as well. There are also front-of-house automation opportunities, such as Chili’s Rita the Robot that serves food and busses tables, which can help reduce labor pressure as the worker shortage holds steady.