This Week In Foodservice

Jerry Stiegler aggregates key industry information and provides brief analysis to help foodservice professionals navigate the data.

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Labor Shortages, Foodservice Automation and More Industry News

The robots have arrived. One QSR chain turns to Google to help create better guest and employee experiences. Are labor shortages the new normal? These stories and more This Week in Foodservice.

Another week goes by and another robot reports to work in a restaurant, or so it seems.

In this instance, CaliBurger plans to open a Washington restaurant that uses an autonomous robot system to cook fries, per a release from the company. It can also cook chicken breasts and tenders, onion rings and other items. The restaurant will also feature an ordering and payment recognition system that leverages opt-in facial recognition and cashless payments. If the CaliBurger name rings familiar, it should. The company has been working with this technology for a while.

And this is just the latest in a string of instances where operators have turned to robotics to offset labor and other challenges in recent months. For example, a restaurant in the Twin Cities now uses robots to run food items to tables where servers take over the last few steps. This helps the restaurant deal with labor shortages in the area. And the University of Illinois at Chicago is using robots this fall to deliver food to students on campus, as reported here a few weeks ago.

A concept that’s making a go with robotics, albeit in a slightly different way, is Sushi Hana in the Pacific Northwest. At this restaurant, guests order food at their tables using a tablet and their sushi orders get delivered via a high-tech monorail system. The restaurant uses robotic equipment to make rice balls, too.

But for all of this to work, robotics, and any other form of automation for that matter, has to provide the proper return on investment for operators, as this FE&S article notes.

For years now, the foodservice industry has wondered when the use of robotics would become more widespread. Perhaps that time is now.

Economic News This Week

  • Initial-jobless claims hit 293,000 for the week ending Oct. 9, 2021, per the S. Department of Labor. This represents a decrease of 36,000 from the previous week and it’s the lowest level for initial claims since March 14, 2020, when it was 256,000. The 4-week moving average was 334,250, a decrease of 10,500 from the previous week. This, too, represents the lowest level for this average since March 14, 2020, when it was 225,500.
  • The Consumer Price Index increased 0.4% in September, per the S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This comes after a 0.3% August increase. Over the last 12 months, the All-Items index increased 5.4%. Food-at-home prices increased 1.2% in September, which is 0.8% greater than August’s increase. For the year, food-at-home prices are up 4.5%. Food-away-from-home prices increased 0.5% in September, which is 0.1% greater than August’s jump. For the year, food-away-from-home prices are up 4.7%.
  • The Producer Price Index for final demand increased 0.5%, per the S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This comes after final demand increases of 0.7% in August and 1.0% in July. On an unadjusted basis, the Final Demand Index rose 8.6% for the 12 months ended in September, the largest advance since 12-month data were first calculated in November 2010. Nearly 80% of the September increase in the index for final demand can be traced to a 1.3% rise in prices for final demand goods. The Index for Final Demand Services moved up 0.2%.
  • Building permits issued for privately-owned housing starts hit 1.59 million in September, per data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 7.7% less than August but is virtually unchanged from September 2020’s rate of 1.59 million. Single‐family permits decreased 0.9% compared to August. Privately-owned housing starts came in at 1.55 million in September, down 1.6% from the August estimate but 7.4% greater than September 2020.

Foodservice News This Week

  • A shortage of labor has become the new normal for foodservice operators throughout the country. Hospitality workers quit their jobs at a rate of 6.8% in August or twice as much as the national average, per published reports. Many restaurants have altered their hours, tried new technologies and more, but those strategies may not be enough, per a Moody’s report. As the old cliché goes, restaurants will have to continue to do more with less or continue to up the ante when it comes to paying.
  • MTY Food Group will acquire the assets of Küto Comptoir à Tartares, a chain of tartare restaurants. Küto has 31 restaurants in operation, all franchised and all in the Canadian province of Quebec. Thirteen of these locations have opened in the past 12 months. On an annualized basis, the network’s system sales total between $20 million and $25 million, per a release announcing the deal. Jean-Michel Paquet, current owner of Küto, will continue to lead the brand, which will also keep its headquarters office and central kitchen in Delson, Quebec.
  • Add Caribou Coffee to the list of brands looking to grow via franchising. Parent company Panera Brands’ domestic franchise program for Caribou Coffee is the latest step in a plan private equity firm JAB Holding Co. unveiled in August. At that time, the owner of multiple chain concepts pulled together three of its brands — Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels — under the umbrella of Panera Brands with the goal of accelerating growth for all three concepts.
  • Wendy’s will turn to Google to help enhance customers’ and employees’ experiences. The new partnership will look to data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and hybrid cloud tools to create new ways customers can order food in the drive-thru, on their mobile devices and through other touchpoints. By expanding the ways customers can engage with the quick-serve restaurant chain in the future, using technology like speech-to-text and Google Search and Maps, Wendy’s hopes to make it faster, easier, and more convenient for customers to access its products.
  • Ever wonder how to select the right commercial oven for a restaurant application? Well, Energy Star can take some of the mystery out of the process with one of its Ask the Experts articles. And for more information about various commercial ovens, be sure to check out the products section of the FE&S website.
  • Growth Chains: Fast-casual concept Greek From Greece Café opened its first franchised location in Philadelphia. This is the chain’s second Pennsylvania location and the third unit the company opened systemwide this year. Nathan's Famous will expand its presence north of the border via an agreement with Branded Virtual Kitchens Canada. The agreement will offer operators with existing kitchens the opportunity to add the Nathan’s Famous menu as a virtual concept without any investment from the restaurant, per a release. Branded Virtual Kitchens offers operators the Nathan’s Famous full menu, including hot dogs, burgers and fries. Through a deal with franchisee One Holland Corp., Western-themed restaurant Roy Rogers plans to add up to 10 locations in the Cincinnati market during the next 6 years. Sullivan’s Steakhouse will open a new location in Little Rock, Ark., its first location in the state of Arkansas, in early 2022. Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade will open its first Texas location later this year. It will operate from the Bishop Arts District in Dallas.