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

Topics in this article

Related Articles

Right Bites: Restaurants Rework Menus for Snack-Happy Market

As small bites replace large meals, restaurant operations adjust menus for all-day snacking. Explore key data behind the latest trends in small plates.

Oh Dough They Didn't! Upstart Pizza Chains Cook Up New Recipes for Success

As a versatile staple, pizza continues to power sales. Lean how fast-casual restaurant chains Pie Five and 7Pie are taking pizza innovation to new levels.

Next Course: 2023 Foodservice Tech Trends

Explore why two foodservice trends--off-premise restaurant formats and artificial intelligence systems--are poised to rise to new heights in 2023.

Hot Sellers: Summer Flavor Forecast Calls for Wave of Appetite-Whetting Trends

Summer sizzles with seasonal staples and trending twists on old favorites. Explore flavor forecasts from Datassential and EatingWell for summer menu ideas.

All About Newstalgia in Desserts

Tweaking familiar dishes to include a new flavor or format could be the menu addition that will pique consumer interest and help increase sales.

No Sustain, No Gain: Foodservice Feeds Bottom Line with Sustainability and Wellness

Sustainability has become a core catalyst for foodservice success. Explore how True Food Kitchen and Mondelēz International exemplify the sustainability trend.

Smaller, Faster, Smarter: Automated Restaurant Formats Feed the Future of Foodservice

Sweetgreen, Chili's and Panera are adopting lean, automated restaurant formats. Learn how automation is transforming the restaurant industry.

Beverages and Desserts Fuel Flavor Inspiration

Inspired by classic beverage elements, operators are creating new dessert menu items — as well as drinks that feature dessert flavors.

Metaverse Measures Up, Major Restaurant Brands Dig In

Top restaurant chains are hungry to tap the promotional potential of the metaverse. Explore Jimmy John's and Pizza Hut's ambitious metaverse initiatives.

Va-Va-Vending: Technology Transforms Vending Machines into 24/7 Restaurants

No longer just a source for prepackaged snacks, vending machines are now purveyors of gourmet-quality meals. Explore two revolutionary vending machines.

Join the Let’s Chat Snacks Community

Be the first to know when we drop new articles, trends and insights, with updates delivered directly to your inbox. Plus, you’ll get an insider perspective on all things foodservice, carefully curated to help you grow your business.