The CookRight Coffee System from Miso Robotics
Source: Miso Robotics
Panera Bread is testing Miso Robotics’ new automated brewing system as it doubles its drink subscription program.
It is part of a broader shift in the restaurant industry towards automation as many eateries struggle to find employees and labor costs rise. For example, McDonald’s is working on automating drive-thru order taking, while California Pizza Kitchen has been testing a robot to help bus tables.
The automation trend has made Miso Robotics popular with restaurant chains and investors alike. Last month, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced that it is testing a Miso robot that makes tortilla chips. The startup’s other fast food partners include White Castle and Arby’s owner Inspire Brands.
Since its founding in 2016, Miso has crowdfunded more than $50 million from restaurant chains such as CaliBurger, venture capital firms and regular investors, according to the company. It is in the midst of the Series E round, which values the startup at $500 million.
“We have seen an increasing tidal wave of demand,” Mike Bell, CEO of Miso Robotics, said in an interview. According to Bell, the biggest problem facing the restaurant industry is the labor gap, which is caused by restaurants needing more workers than are available. “And it’s not going away,” he said.
Miso’s latest launch is the CookRight Coffee System, which uses artificial intelligence to monitor coffee volume and temperature. It also provides predictive analytics that can tell the restaurant more about what type of coffee its customers enjoy and when. Bell said Miso charges customers “a few hundred dollars” a month for its CookRight technology, while the startup’s Flippy the Robot is cutting operators several thousand dollars in monthly fees.
Panera’s goal with the system is to give employees more time to spend on other tasks, such as helping customers, and to ensure that coffee drinkers enjoy every sip of their drink, especially if they subscribe to the Unlimited Sip Club. .
“We’ve never seen this as a cost saving or a defense against the labor market,” said George Hanson, Panera’s Chief Digital Officer.
Panera launched the coffee and tea subscription program more than two years ago after overhauling its coffee selection. For $8.99 per month, customers can drink unlimited coffee and tea. The program’s low monthly cost gives Panera an easy way to attract customers and persuade them to change their breakfast habits.
For now, only two Panera locations are testing the CookRight Coffee system. Hanson said the chain will make a decision in the coming weeks about how quickly and how much to scale across its footprint. Panera owns nearly half of its U.S. cafes, while franchisees operate the remaining 1,200 locations.
Bell said Miso expects thousands of its partners’ restaurants to have CookRight technology installed by the end of the year, as well as hundreds of Flippy the Robots.
As for the rest of the kitchen, Hanson said Panera will continue to look for more ways to automate tasks for its employees if it makes sense, but he doesn’t expect its restaurants to be run entirely by robots in the future. For Bell, though, it’s a matter of when, not if, restaurants will be automated.
“If we see things like this that will help our employees, we’ll look at them opportunistically,” Hanson said. “I see the industry being very curious about this, but maybe in some areas I’ve seen that curiosity through the labor costs, and that’s just not our filter.”
The soup and sandwich chain is privately owned by Einstein Bros.’ parent company JAB Holding, so it doesn’t disclose how many Unlimited Sip Club subscribers it has. However, Panera announced in November that it would go public again through an IPO after acquiring investments from restaurateur Danny Meyer and his special-purpose acquisition company.
Other companies have recently postponed their IPOs due to inflation fears and market volatility. A Panera representative declined to comment on whether the chain has changed its plans.