Tuesday (May 31), Chick-fil-A became the latest major restaurant brand to experiment with robotic delivery as a way to meet demand despite major capacity issues.
Autonomous robot delivery company Refraction announced it was testing self-driving vehicle delivery at two of the chicken sandwich quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain’s locations in downtown Austin, Texas.
“Autonomous delivery using Refraction’s robots creates an exciting new opportunity to extend the Chick-fil-A experience to a growing number of delivery guests,” Luke Steigmeyer, owner and operator of Chick-fil-A 6th & Congress, the franchise site running the initial test, said in a statement. “The platform will allow us to provide fast, high-quality, cost-effective meal delivery within a one-mile radius of our restaurant while helping to keep the community we serve environmentally clean and safe.”
In recent months, major players ranging from Chili’s to Uber Eats have announced robotic delivery trials, with systems including sidewalk rovers, self-driving cars and drones. The moves come as continued demand for restaurant delivery clashes with rising prices and a tough labor market for delivery drivers, driving up costs. In fact, many restaurants do not have the capacity to meet delivery demand.
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About a third of all restaurant customers order from delivery aggregators each month, according to data from the March/April edition of PYMNTS’ Digital Divide series, “The Digital Divide: Regional Variations in US Food Ordering Trends and Digital Adoption, created in collaboration with Paytronixwhich is based on a survey of more than 2,500 American adults who regularly buy food from restaurants.
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Reducing delivery costs through initiatives that reduce channel labor requirements can also help drive demand. Research from PYMNTS’ 2022 Restaurant Friction Index, also created in conjunction with Paytronix, which draws from an October Balanced Census survey of more than 2,100 consumers, found that of the 58 % of consumers who don’t use aggregators, 41% say it’s because they won’t pay delivery or service charges.
Read more: PYMNTS data: Loyalty programs are the best way to get customers to spend more
What insiders are saying
After Brinker International, parent company of Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy, announced the launch of a drone delivery trial in Texas in partnership with Flytrex, Brinker’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer Wade Allen spoke with PYMNTS about the need for these kinds of automated solutions.
“Delivery is really inefficient,” Allen said. “It’s a half-ton vehicle. It is a single person who usually takes food between one mile and two miles. Gas prices are rising. There is a pressure on manpower or it just entails a lot of expense. It’s really inefficient. So you start thinking, ‘Hey, is there a smarter way to do this?’
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Ali Kashanico-founder and CEO of Serve Robotics, a robotic sidewalk delivery company currently conducting an autonomous delivery trial with Uber Eats, explained in an interview with PYMNTS that it will take time to overcome resistance to the new technology. .
“There is already a ton of demand. … It’s just a matter of time. It’s just patience,” he said. “You have to go through this process, get the bots out, take care of the integrations, go through making more bots. It takes time to engage regulators, engage customers. … There’s an element of education, making sure people understand why it exists, why it has to exist.
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