Restaurant Industry InsightsRestaurant Trends

Sweetgreen’s Automated Kitchen—Is It the Restaurant of the Future?

Sweetgreen’s Infinite Kitchen, its first automated restaurant using Spyce technology, opened its doors on May 10 in the Chicago suburb known as Naperville. Bowls move down a conveyor belt, gathering their ingredients en route to their final destination. 

Any human interaction is conducted by the host and the people at the end of the line that adds herbs and avocado to the dish. According to Jonathan Neman, CEO of Sweetgreen, they’re experiencing a lot of positive feedback, including the speed and accuracy of service, the hospitality, and the theater of the food. 

Spyce Technology and the Promise of Automation

Almost two years ago, Sweetgreen, the California-based fast-casual salad chain, acquired Spyce, a kitchen robotics startup. Spyce, a Boston-based startup, was founded in 2015 by MIT mechanical engineering students that first used automated technology to serve food in the school’s dining hall. Ultimately, they opened a pair of restaurants in the Boston area.

The idea behind Infinite Kitchen is to improve the customer experience and reduce labor costs. To that end, the brand has integrated digital touchpoints, including self-service tablets. Guests can also order from a mobile app or the host. Additionally, the Naperville location features a Tasting Counter, enabling customers to sample certain dishes before ordering.

The Infinite Kitchen Experience

Joe Ciolli, a reporter from Business Insider, shared his experience at the first Infinite Kitchen. The Infinite Kitchen features dozens of transparent glass tubes that contain 50 or so ingredients used in Sweetgreen’s meals, including beets, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, chickpeas, assorted cheeses, and hard-boiled eggs. The bowls received their varying ingredients as they traveled down the assembly line. You can even choose to have the items mixed.

Some items went to the to-go racks for delivery and pickup items. Ciolli says over 60% of the brand’s orders are placed online. He also found it a huge success and wildly impressive, receiving carefully measured and distributed ingredients. “The Harvest Bowl in particular was a model of perfection.”

The brand worked hard to create this type of experience. It resolved automation issues, such as how to include cherry tomatoes without getting them squished in the process and incorporating goat cheese despite its tendency to clump. It also worked on technology that ensured consistent portions, rotated the bowls, and mixed the ingredients at the end. The automated masterpiece can make up to 600 bowls in an hour, sans mixing.

Sweetgreen’s Infinite Kitchen is not without its critics. According to CNBC, one Yelp reviewer said that the line went out the door due to customers uncertain about their order. “That may be the downfall of this establishment because had we walked in 5 minutes later and seen that line, we would have walked past and eaten someplace else.”

The Success of Infinite Kitchen

According to the restaurant’s latest earnings call for the period ending on June 25, Infinite Kitchen has been a tremendous success. The margins for the store were 26%. Considering the average store comes in at 20.4%, it’s clear that the robot-led unit offers something unique and translatable. 

Neman suggested the success relied on improvements in supply chain sourcing and better labor deployment. In a previous earnings call, Neman stated, “About half of our labor, our variable labor in the restaurant, is production or assembly. And this Infinite Kitchen takes the majority of that.”

The brand is opening a second Infinite Kitchen at the end of 2023. You can expect Sweetgreen to go all in on automation in light of higher profit margins and increasing efficiency that allows the brand to expand more quickly.

Sweetgreen’s Overall Financial Picture

To capture the bigger picture of the Sweetgreen brand, one needs to look at its overall track record. In 17 years, they have not shown a profit. Despite that, its market cap, or the value of the publicly listed company, stands at $1.61 billion as of August 2023. 

Sweetgreen’s Q2 financial results show a revenue of $152.5 million, compared to $124.9 million in Q2 of 2022. The net loss was $27.3 million versus $40.5 in the prior year period. The quarter saw 10 new restaurant openings. 

Mitch Reback, Chief Financial Officer, reported, “The investments we’ve made in adapting our operating model to this new environment resulted in positive Adjusted EBITDA for the first time as a public company. We believe the changes we have made will continue to drive improvements in our model well into the future.”

FAQS

Where is Sweetgreen’s robotic kitchen?

Sweetgreen’s first robotic kitchen opened in May in Naperville, a Chicago suburb. It lies 30 miles west of Chicago on the West Branch Du Page River.

How many Sweetgreen restaurants are there?

There are about 205 Sweetgreen restaurants in 13 states and Washington, D.C.

*image Google Images

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