CaliBurger’s First Futuristic Location Two Months In
Flippy hard at work inside CaliBurger.
For two months, CaliBurger operator Tim Frederic has been an early franchisee utilizing the full suite of technology in the company’s “restaurant operating system.”
At the counter are PopID kiosks that recognize customer faces, in the dining room is a 13-foot interactive Funwall gaming wall and in the kitchen is Flippy, the autonomous burger-flipping and fry-frying robot designed by Miso Robotics. PopID, Miso, Funwall and CaliBurger are under the Cali Group umbrella company.
Frederic said it’s maybe the most futuristic burger restaurant in the U.S., let alone Fort Meyers, Florida, and all the technology is on full display.
“We did a nice job on the presentation. Everything is very visible, when you walk into the restaurant, there’s no doubt that you’ll see the technology and on the level that anyone can see, from a 5-year-old to an adult,” said Frederic. “It’s a lot of fun to see the kids’ eyes light up.”
The whole futuristic setup is just two months old, but he said he’s already seen how the business is changing. The now cliché promise of automation is that employees can spend more time with the customer. He said that’s true, and it helps his staff maintain that service with a smile, especially at peak times.
“To me, it’s exciting because you can see what it can do to handle volume,” said Frederic. “But what I really like about this tech is it does allow my managers and employees to focus on the customer. Whenever it’s busy, there is stuff going on behind the counter, you had people turned around and you lost the smile.”
They’re especially smiley because nobody has to stand over a hot fryer or sizzling grill. When an order is placed and the line is gone, those employees can go out in the dining room and make sure the guest experience is quality—there’s no soggy fries, either.
“Knowing you can place a basket down, the fact that you know that order is good, I can go out and touch a customer or wipe down the tables instead of just staring and making sure it’s cooking right,” said Frederic. “You also have a lot more confidence that food is being made to spec. Flippy doesn’t allow you to make a change.”
He said that’s a real quality of life perk. When things are hectic, lines are growing and patience wanes, it’s easy to pull a fry basket a little early to get an ornery customer satiated. Of course, soggy fries just make them madder.
As for the facial recognition in the PopID kiosks, he said they work well. Because his location is adjascent to several college campuses, there are a lot of young people already utilizing the facial-recognition tools to bring up their orders and pay like they've done it forever.
"When we first opened, I was walking up and telling people how to use it," said Frederic. "Already, people are saying go away, I got it."
Frederic grew up in his family’s McDonald’s franchise and runs an independent restaurant called Marlin’s Brewhouse, so he’s no stranger to technology. He’s also not a computer scientist, so he’s not going to tweak a robotic arm or a facial-recognition kiosk if it breaks down. Luckily he said he doesn’t have to.
“That’s the simple part, that’s what Miso provides, they’re the net under the trapeze. There’s been some small operational errors, but it’s been a very collaborative process,” said Frederic.
As for the cost, it wasn’t a blip at about $60,000 for Flippy and neither the kiosks or gaming wall were cheap.
“There’s no doubt about it, obviously being first, it costs a little more, but that will come down. It’s like buying the first HD TV, it’ll come down fast,” said Frederic. “This is sort of that evolution and it’ll become the norm, we’re just ahead of the game.”
Miso said it aims to hit a $30,000 price point for a ceiling-mounted version of Flippy soon. It aims for a $10,000 cost at Miso after that, which would allow the company to charge a monthly fee for the robot with limited or no upfront cost.
Read more about the “restaurant operating system” under Cali Group in the February cover story of Franchise Times and see a video of Flippy in action below.