Under a new licensing agreement and with the backdrop of low-contact restaurant operations persisting indefinitely, the restaurant industry will likely have a lot more pickup cubbies starting next year.
That’s according to Mike Wills, CEO of Apex, a company that provides pickup logistics technology in many industries and is the vendor behind Little Caesars' Pizza Portal model.
In what is a bit of a finance and restaurant vendor logic maze, Apex now has exclusive rights to some technology to create engaging, customer pickup cubbies that hit the franchise world via Wow Bao.
In short, the company behind that technology turned into Brightloom, a customer-engagement vendor focused on the Starbucks system and shuttered restaurant operations. Apex announced it had licensed the model to "further develop Brightloom’s automated foodservice pickup technology," according to a press release.
Wills told Franchise Times he was excited by the potential, but has a lot of work to do to truly automate the idea.
"The things we bring to the party is the digital integration and automation and efficiency. The Brightloom implementation was all manual. While it was inefficient on the operator side, it had all the wow factor on the consumer side," said Wills.
Basically, it’s a kiosk or digital ordering experience. But when customers arrive for pickup, they’re greeted with cute animations that cover cubbies from which users can pick up their food. The company connected all the digital order back end for the Little Caesars Pizza Portals—the little pizza warming oven by which customers can get their pizzas with a scan or code sans employee interaction. Wills said the integration goes all the way individual door. So, when a customer orders, it signals not just the restaurant point of sale and kitchen displays, but also algorithmically controls which door on the portal employees slot the pizza.
There’s efficiency there, he said, and a well-tuned restaurant can save an hour of labor a day by reducing customer interruptions and redeploying a counter or pickup person to food prep or other back-of-house tasks.
He said the marketer in him sees a lot of potential for the digitized windows.
"The ability of the screen panels that are the door covers to give nearly limitless digital branding schemes and concepts is very exciting. The acquisition of that IP to take it into our own roadmap and determine what parts and pieces we want to inject and work into an integrated next-gen solution," said Wills. "Let’s say I have a customer ID, what if I want to elect to put a graphical icon on associated with my file. Then, when I walk in I see my icon and my handle name, I can personalize it and get that much more appeal. And they can also do point-of-sale promotions."
He said that would help bring warmth to even an employee-free experience, a key consideration for a lot of brands navigating their digital-pickup logistics. At the very least, a dancing hamburger or chicken sandwich is more engaging than the shelf covered in bags of food seen across the industry.
The pricing is one of the things that’s still up in the air, but Wills similar digital outlets, such as lockers they have across college campuses or pizza-pickup boxes, cost about $15 a day to operate when including the cost of equipment, the technology subscription and everything else.
He said the licensing deal comes with a roster of business, including some "top 10 brands." And as more brands reasses their real estate in the COVID-19 era and beyond into the radically-altered new normal, he said he expects more companies to look at underutilized space as potential burger, chicken, sandwich and taco portals.