Chipotle Mexican Grill is no stranger to experimenting with automation in the quest to improve customer service and operational efficiency. The popular burrito chain recently announced its latest initiative in collaboration with Hyphen, a startup focused on automating kitchen operations. This test is the restaurant’s second foray into the world of automation, following the successful introduction of “Chippy,” a robot that specializes in crafting tortilla chips.
Restaurants across the industry, from Sweetgreen to Starbucks, have been exploring automation to streamline labor expenses and boost order consistency and speed. While the potential benefits are clear, the cost of implementing robotics and AI-driven systems can be substantial, making it a long-term investment. Nevertheless, the future of automation in the restaurant sector holds great promise, with chains like Sweetgreen aiming to have all their future restaurants fully automated within five years.
Chipotle’s recent automation test aligns with its ongoing pursuit of innovative solutions. The company invested an undisclosed amount in Hyphen, formerly known as Ono Food, a startup now valued at $104 million according to PitchBook. The collaboration between Chipotle and Hyphen focuses on automating the assembly of burrito bowls and salads for digital orders, leveraging Hyphen’s cutting-edge technology.
At present, all Chipotle restaurants maintain two distinct lines for order assembly: one in the front for dine-in customers and another in the kitchen for digital orders. Notably, a significant portion of Chipotle’s digital orders comprises burrito bowls and salads. The new Hyphen robot streamlines the creation of these dishes by placing bowls underneath the digital make line to dispense precisely measured ingredients. Simultaneously, restaurant employees can manage digital orders for other menu items like tacos, quesadillas, and burritos using the same digital make line. Once the robot completes the burrito bowl or salad, it sends the dish to the surface for employees to package it accurately.
While automation in restaurants is still evolving, innovative experiments like Chipotle’s partnership with Hyphen exemplify the industry’s commitment to enhancing the customer experience and operational efficiency through technology.