Sweetgreen Stores Are Expected To Be Completely Automated In 5 Years

Salad-loving foodies are about to get their arugula with a side of automation. Sweetgreen stores are enthusiastically gearing up for an AI overhaul.

Dubbed the "Infinite Kitchen," the chain has been testing a 100% robotic production line that assembles all of Sweetgreen's orders from start to finish. Prep is still human-orchestrated, as employees make the ingredients, but robots are assembling those ingredients in the bowls. The first Infinite Kitchen prototype opened less than a month ago in Naperville, Illinois, and if it's any indication of what's to come, Sweetgreen is thrilled. So far, it isn't affecting the overall customer experience, and it's reportedly saving the chain big money.

This move is reflective of a larger industry-wide trend, according to a recent report by data analytics firm Chef's Pencil. Post-pandemic, restaurants have shifted their focus to production, hiring more cooks than servers as takeout and delivery orders surpass sit-down guests. These factors played a key role in Sweetgreen's decision to go AI. As CEO Jonathan Neman explained at the 43rd Annual William Blair Growth Stock Conference, "Our detractors in the business, if you look at our NPS, have always been around portioning, accuracy, and timeliness. This solves for all of those things," via QSR.

Sweetgreen is cooking up plans to expand the Infinite Kitchen into new and existing restaurant locations. It'll take time and money to set up, but the chain seems to think that the payoff will be well worth the effort.

Salad cyborgs en route

According to Neman, the shift was motivated by two main factors: product consistency and customer experience. With robot workers, the bowls are coming out identical every time, allowing human employees to give more care and attention to the customers. Neman estimates that 50% of Sweetgreen employee tasks are around production; this new tech development would effectively cut employee workload in half — which ostensibly implies better, but fewer jobs. Currently, the employment platform Indeed gives Sweetgreen 3.1 out of 5 stars for pay and benefits and 3.5 for workplace culture based on real employee reviews. Similarly, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have been implementing a drive-thru ordering AI called "Tori" and have reported a better experience for both customers and staff, increasing both revenue and productivity.

While Sweetgreen's kitchen is well underway transitioning to robot cooks, the chain hasn't announced any plans to automate the customer service roles of its restaurants – which is perhaps the key to successfully implementing AI technology in fast food restaurants. McDonald's and Taco Bell have recently been testing drive-thru order-taking AI systems and the results have thus far been so bad as to be laughable. One TikTok depicts McDonald's AI adding more and more McNuggets to the poster's order while they cackle and beg it to stop. Newsweek calls this technology "the introvert's dream," which could be another bonus for some foodies. But, by allocating the roles to production and not customer interaction, Sweetgreen might be onto something.