Chipotle moves ahead with kitchen robots, seamless stores

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Chipotle is testing an automated kitchen assistant.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is piloting advanced technologies to automate kitchen workflows and mobile-enable the store experience for customers.

The fast-casual restaurant chain is proceeding with tests of an artificial intelligence (AI)-based robotic kitchen assistant, an in-store customer experience enhanced with real-time data and mobile interaction, and an automated kitchen management system. Details of each pilot follow.

‘Chippy’ the AI-based robotic chef

Chipotle is moving to the next stage of operational testing with “Chippy,” a customized autonomous kitchen assistant from Miso Robotics, which cooks and freshly seasons tortilla chips. Chipotle guided Miso in tailoring its technology.

Leveraging AI, Chippy is trained to replicate Chipotle's exact recipe – using corn masa flour, water and sunflower oil – to cook chips, season with salt, and finish with fresh lime juice. It was imperative that the technique remained the same so customers receive identically made chips every time.

Chipotle has been testing Chippy at the Chipotle Cultivate Center, the company’s innovation hub in Irvine, Calif., since March 2022. In October 2022, the retailer will in deploy Chippy a Fountain Valley, Calif. location while it listens, tests and learns from associate and customer feedback before deciding on a national implementation strategy.

Contextual restaurant experience

Chipotle is simultaneously piloting advanced location-based technology to enhance its app functionality and provide a seamless, convenient experience for in-store customers.

For customers who opt in, the program, based on the Radius Networks Flybuy platform, engages with Chipotle app users upon their arrival and utilize real-time data to enhance their experience with interactive services such as order readiness messaging, wrong pick-up location detection, and reminders to scan the Chipotle Rewards QR code at checkout.

"Empowering our restaurants with advanced technologies is critical for operational excellence and better positions our teams for our ambitious growth plans," said Scott Boatright, chief restaurant officer, Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Chipotle is currently testing this program at 73 restaurants in Cleveland. According to the company, early results indicate positive performance with improved in-store rewards engagement, order alert notifications, and efficiencies with earlier assignments for marketplace delivery drivers.

Kitchen management system

In eight Southern California restaurants in Orange County, Calif., Chipotle is piloting a “cook to needs” kitchen management system from PreciTaste that provides demand-based cooking and ingredient preparation forecasts. The AI- and machine learning-based system is designed to optimize throughput and freshness while minimizing food waste.

The kitchen management system monitors ingredient levels in real time and notifies the crew how much to prep and cook and when to start cooking, while automatically populating real-time production planning for each restaurant.

"The new kitchen management system has alleviated manual tasks for our crew and given restaurant managers the tools they need to make informed in the moment decisions, ultimately enabling them to focus on an exceptional culinary and an outstanding guest experience," said Curt Garner, CTO, Chipotle.

Chipotle says that early results indicate the pilot is effectively streamlining kitchen operations for employees while always ensuring a full line of fresh ingredients for customers.

[Read more: Chipotle invests in kitchen automation, plant-based meat alternative]

Headquartered in Newport Beach, Calif., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. had over 3,000 restaurants as of June 30, 2022, in the United StatesCanada, the United KingdomFrance and Germany, and is the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its restaurants.