News Feature | February 27, 2017

Restaurant And Hospitality News – February 27, 2017

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Chipotle Extends Employee Benefits

In news this week, Chipotle introduces new digital ordering technology while Bloomin’ Brands struggles with slipping same-store sales.

Chipotle Reduces Digital Order Wait Times With New Technology

Chipotle has introduced its new “Smarter Pickup Times” technology, significantly reducing digital order wait times at its restaurants. The new technology enhances web ordering and ordering apps and improves the company’s ability to process more digital orders without disrupting service at its locations. The rollout follows an extensive beta test in locations nationwide, which saw a reduction of digital order wait times by as much as 50 percent and an increase in digital orders to record levels.

“Most people don’t know that nearly every Chipotle has an extra make-line in the back of the restaurant where orders can be prepared without disrupting service on the main line,” explained Chipotle chief marketing and developing officer Mark Crumpacker. “Smarter Pickup Times enhances this capability by dynamically scheduling orders and generating accurate wait times based on the current volume of orders. This allows us to prepare more digital orders while simultaneously improving the customer service.”

“We have been evaluating all of our digital offerings with an eye toward removing friction,” stated Curt Garner, chief information officer at Chipotle. “That started with a redesign of our website to make it responsive to whatever device a customer is using – a computer, tablet, or smartphone – followed by online catering and additional out of store payment options, and continues with the completion of our Smarter Pickup Times initiative. With this change, we have reduced the wait time for digital orders and are able to keep our restaurants from being overwhelmed with digital orders, particularly at peak times.”

Bloomin’ Brands Closes 43 Restaurants While Ramping Up Delivery Tests At Others

Bloomin’ Brands Inc. announced the closure of 43 underperforming restaurants due to persistent weak same-store sales across most of its casual dining brands. Outback Steakhouse saw same-store sales drop 4.8 percent, while Carrabba’s Italian Grill saw a 2.3 percent decline in the quarter ending December 25. Bonefish Grill also saw a 1.9 percent dip, while Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse saw a 0.2 percent increase.

“Although 2016 was a challenging year for both Bloomin' Brands and the industry, we made real progress on our strategy to reallocate spending away from discounting toward investments to strengthen brand health, " Liz Smith, CEO of Bloomin’ Brands, said in a statement.

"We are pleased with how our brands are performing so far in 2017, particularly at Outback where we believe our investments are beginning to gain traction." 

Meanwhile, Bloomin’ Brands has also ramped up its delivery tests at Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s to help off-premise sales. Off-premise sales comprised 10 percent of Outback sales and 11 percent of Carrabba’s sales. The parent company has announced that it anticipates offering delivery at 115 restaurants by the end of the first quarter, focused primarily at Outback and Carrabba’s. Delivery promises to be one of the greatest opportunities for the brand to expand its sales, and the tests include the use of third-party and in-house delivery services. “The off-premise opportunity is the first structural tailwind in the industry in quite some time,” explained Smith. “We intend to capture our fair share of occasions when dining at home is preferred.”

“We think this is a huge opportunity,” Smith asserted, and pledged that Bloomin’ Brands would be taking an aggressive tact while also ensuring that quality remained consistent. “You have to really nail it and do it right,” she said.