Panera, Burger King And Wendy's All Joining Tech Movement

All three restaurant chains plan launches of technology upgrades that will allow for kiosks, mobile ordering, and mobile payments from smartphones and tablets.

For executives in the restaurant industry, it's either join the technology movement or risk becoming obsolete, as Panera Bread, Burger King and Wendy's all recently announced they will be rolling out new tech innovations in their restaurants this coming year.

Panera Bread Co. is calling their upgrades “Panera 2.0,” which include an emphasis on kiosk and mobile ordering, operational modifications and plans for smaller restaurants. The new format, which was tested in four units in the Boston area, includes a two-pronged effort that for some locations means the addition of “Rapid Pick-Up” mobile and online ordering, and for others an in-store kiosk ordering system.

Panera will spend about $42 million on technology alone, an expense shared with franchisees, who operate about half of the chain’s 1,777 units.

“What Panera 2.0 is a vision for is not technology,” cautioned Ron Shaich, Panera’s chairman and chief executive. “A lot of people want to think like that, but what it really is a vision for is how we evolve the guest experience at Panera. It’s how we care for the individual needs, the specific needs, of our to-go customers, of our eat-in customers and those customers who want it wherever they are, not where we are.”

Blaine E. Hurst, Panera’s executive vice president of technology and transformation said technology expenditures initially total about $42 million, with a $22.5 million investment in commerce software, $8 million in network security, $6 million in content management, $4.6 million in café management software and $700,000 in consumer support. The security investment was a high priority.

“We have to take security very seriously,” said Hurst. “It’s a matter of trust with our customers.”

Shaich said in test units, about 20 percent to 30 percent of orders are through the kiosk, Web and mobile platforms. The figures still pale in comparison to pizza chains’ reports of nearly 50 percent digital orders.

Burger King Worldwide Inc., the second-biggest U.S. burger chain by store count, announced that they are introducing an application that will allow customers to pay for Whoppers with their smartphones as it races rivals to woo younger diners.

The program will be introduced next month and should be in all of Burger King’s more than 7,000 U.S. locations in “a few months,” Bryson Thornton, a spokesman for the company told Bloomberg. The option to order food and drinks ahead of time for later in-store pickup may be added, he said.

Burger King’s app, developed by Tillster Inc., will give customers coupons for deals, such as $1 any-size drinks and free fries, as well as nutrition facts. To pay with mobile phones, users can load value onto a virtual card within the app.

About 19 percent of American consumers had recently used a mobile device to make a restaurant pickup or delivery order, according to a 2012 study from Technomic. That will probably increase as younger generations age, the researcher said.

Wendy’s has begun accepting mobile payments via its “My Wendy’s” smartphone app at the majority of its 5,800 U.S. units after testing the system last year, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Brandon Rhoten, vice president of digital and social media at Wendy’s, told Nation’s Restaurant News that three-fourths of the 85 million people who viewed the online videos did so through the mobile platform. He added that 62 percent of the incremental audience gained from the campaign fell into the Millennial demographic between 18 and 34 years old.

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