A Hearty Appetite for Automation: Top Restaurant Chains Tap Next-Gen Tech to Feed Sales

Posted in Technology on July 6, 2021


It’s no secret that top restaurant brands like Domino’s and McDonald’s navigated the pandemic more nimbly than small operations, which often ate heavy losses due to a lack of robust off-premises channels. Expedited by the ease and convenience of digital ordering, takeout, delivery and drive-thru service all proved to be powerful revenue engines for major players when in-store traffic slowed to a crawl or came to a screeching halt.

Pizza powered big sales, with off-premises grabbing a large slice of the pie. In fact, 95% of operators expect pizza sales to increase or stay the same next year, according to the market research firm Datassential.1 The consumer appetite for tech innovation is growing, setting expectations for next-gen pizza delivery. Sixty percent of consumers surveyed find GPS tracking of food delivery very or somewhat appealing. Pizza ordered from other devices (45%) and delivery by flying or driving drone (42%) also are on the rise.2

Enter Nuro, a self-driving delivery vehicle developed for Domino’s by the robotics company of the same name. Now testing in Houston, Nuro is blazing a trail into the driverless future of delivery to earn Domino’s bragging rights as “the first quick-service restaurant in the U.S. to launch autonomous pizza delivery.”3 After customers opt in for Nuro delivery of their order, Domino’s texts them a PIN that they input via a touchscreen when the delivery robot arrives at their address. The PIN triggers Nuro’s doors to open, allowing customers to retrieve their food. The technology alerts customers of the progress of the delivery and Nuro’s arrival.

Last February, Nuro became the first self-driving vehicle to be granted regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation,4 paving the way for more to follow. Nuro vehicles also have been used for grocery and CVS pharmacy deliveries in Houston.5

As Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation officer, explained: “This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations. ... We look forward to seeing how autonomous delivery can work along with Domino’s existing delivery experts to better support the customers’ needs.”6

The novelty of driverless delivery could appeal to the market’s taste for novelty and lead to a big bump in sales down the road if the program is rolled out nationally.

The Golden Arches Accelerate Drive-Thru Service with Voice-Based Tech

While Domino’s makes inroads into driverless delivery in Houston, McDonald’s has introduced a pilot program for automated voice ordering at drive-thrus in the Chicago area. Developed by Apprente, the technology innovation company McDonald’s acquired in September 2019, the system is being tested at 10 locations and takes about 80% of orders with 85% accuracy.7

Once integrated as a seamless operational asset that human staff can trust to take and process orders without their involvement, the voice-based automation could expedite drive-thru service and increase sales.

But McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski cautions that rolling out the system from 10 units in Chicagoland to 14,000 across the U.S. is a tall order. “There’s still a lot of work,” he said,7 but given the acquisition of Apprente, he expressed confidence in the automation. “... [W]e feel good about the technical feasibility of it and the business case.”7

From travel-friendly dishes to signature desserts, Mondelēz International Foodservice can help ensure your menu keeps pace with the shifting demands of today’s marketplace and your operation makes the most of next-gen technology. To turbocharge your delivery and takeout sales, be sure to check out our white paper, 5 Ways to Turn Up the Off-Premises Revenue Engine. For information on how our expert chefs can cook up menu solutions for your business, reach out below.


Pizza SNAP! Keynote Report (Datassential, April 2021), p. 2 

2 Datassential, p. 9

3 Domino's Pizza, The Future of Delivery Is Self-Driving

4 Lucas, Amelia, “Domino’s Pizza pilots driverless delivery with Nuro autonomous car in Houston,” CNBC, April 12, 2021

5 Ohnsman, Alan, “Nuro’s Delivery Bots Adding CVS Prescriptions to Grocery and Pizza Runs,” Forbes, May 28, 2020 

6 Domino’s and Nuro Launch Autonomous Pizza Delivery with On-Road Robot, Domino's Pizza, April 12, 2021

7 Ruggless, Ron, “McDonald’s tests automated drive-thru order-taking in Chicago area,” Nation’s Restaurant News, June 3, 2021

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