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Is Restaurant Automation the Engine for Growth in the QSR Franchise Space?

Author: Chris Andrews, Chief Information Office at Smoothie King on: Aug 5, 2019

With a concept like Smoothie King, there’s no way we’d ever consider automating all operations. When you take into account initiatives like Clean Blends and the brand promise of Smoothies With A Purpose™, we couldn’t maintain our mission with any sense of authenticity if we fully automated our business processes.

However, there are points in product workflow that impact a restaurant business owner’s bottom line, including cost of goods, labor or quality assurance. For example, every menu item a restaurant offers has a specific recipe that requires precise amounts of ingredients – whether it be different spices or sauces – that a human is less likely to get right every time. This can impact the consistency of flavor that guests come to expect from a restaurant within a franchise system.

So, there’s an obvious opportunity for automation to help reduce variation in product quality and ideally increase overall customer satisfaction.

Automation vs. Technology

With all that being said, there’s a difference between automation and technology. While automation implies taking the human touch out of a process, technology is simply about improving and evolving the said process.

Technology has developed at an incredible rate and is continuing to do so. The internet is just over 30 years old, and yet sometimes it’s hard to imagine how businesses could function efficiently without it. As technological innovation marches forward, it’s important for us to recognize new changes that can help us grow Smoothie King and refine our processes.

We’ve seen technology integrate itself into the restaurant industry over the years. From the first digital payments systems to self-service kiosks at fast-food restaurants, technology and some degree of automation has taken a stronghold in the market, and this isn’t a bad thing. These developments have made it easier for employees to deliver what their customers want faster and more accurately. And what should restaurants strive for if not that?

At Smoothie King, we’ve found ways to evolve with the time without relying on automation. For example, one of our franchisees, James Farmer, uses tablets at the point-of-purchase to help educate his guests about their choice of smoothie and help them customize to their purpose and taste. These tablets have our Smoothie King Healthy Rewards app running on them, which allows guests to learn more about the nutrition of each smoothie. This provides a deeper, more interactive experience for his guests by giving them the ability to digitally add and remove ingredients to a smoothie before purchase and see how the drink’s nutrition balance changes in real-time.

Advancements like this improve our guest experience without sacrificing the human element.

Keeping the Human Element

No matter how much we integrate technology or automation into our production, Smoothie King will always retain its core focus on people – our franchisees and their team members. They are an integral aspect of who we are and what we represent. Our brand promise asks you the “why” behind your purchase. We want to know your purpose for each smoothie, how you’re integrating our healthy meal alternative into your larger lifestyle and fitness goals. We get to know our guests and get involved in our communities. We strive for more than delivering the desired product. We practice what we preach and aim to leave a positive impression on guests with every interaction. We’ve invest in our human capital just as much as – if not more than – our technological infrastructure.

No matter how much we may evolve our processes with the development of technology, we refuse to automate Smoothie King’s mission. Our business is built around personal communication and connection with our guests that automation couldn’t replicate, but it can potentially assist in making more effective, convenient and efficient.