SWEETGREEN EMBRACES AUTOMATION TO CUT LABOR COSTS AND IMPROVE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Salad chain Sweetgreen has opened its first automated location in Naperville, Illinois, and plans to eventually automate all its stores within the next five years. The move is part of a wider trend in the restaurant industry, with companies like Starbucks and Chipotle exploring the use of artificial intelligence and robots. Sweetgreen purchased robotic technology startup Spyce in 2021 to develop its automated kitchen. The technology had to be adapted to accommodate Sweetgreen’s specific menu items, such as dispending clumpy goat cheese and delicate cherry tomatoes. The Infinite Kitchen, as it is called, can produce up to 600 bowls per hour.
INSIDE THE INFINITE KITCHEN
Sweetgreen’s automated location in Naperville features a large window that allows customers to observe the preparation of their orders by human workers. Customers can place their orders using tablets in the store or through Sweetgreen’s app. The Infinite Kitchen uses bulk food dispensers to assemble orders, with bowls rotating at each stop to allow for the distribution of ingredients. Some ingredients, such as herbs, avocado, and fish, are still added by human workers. The kitchen can hold up to 20 bowls at a time, with the capacity to add more if needed. The setup includes digital screens to monitor ingredient levels and potential malfunctions.
THE BENEFITS OF AUTOMATION
Sweetgreen expects automation to reduce labor costs and improve efficiency. Locations with the Infinite Kitchen will require approximately half the number of workers compared to traditional locations. The automated system can handle peak periods without needing additional staff. Employee training is also expected to be faster, as memorizing menu items will no longer be necessary. Sweetgreen anticipates a reduction in turnover due to the calmer work environment.
Sweetgreen’s embrace of automation demonstrates the restaurant industry’s growing interest in incorporating technology into their operations. By leveraging automation, companies like Sweetgreen can cut labor costs, enhance efficiency, and improve the overall customer experience. While the long-term success of automation in the industry remains to be seen, Sweetgreen’s early adoption suggests a promising future for automated restaurants.