Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant chain Cava has doubled its US presence this year and plans to have 40 branches open by the end of 2017. Its success has partly been put down to the innovative use of sensors and data. Launching in the new year is a loyalty scheme that will also harness data collected in store.
As much as Cava has become known among US diners for its roasted red pepper hummus, among other Mediterranean delicacies, arguably the single biggest ingredient in the chain’s success so far has been the Raspberry Pi single-board computer. This powers a network of sensors to keep a close eye on customer waiting times, food-safety and even in-house congestion.
According to chief data scientist Josh Patchus, insights gleaned from the network improve Cava’s “ROI of experience” as he recently told Fast Company.
The Cava experience
One part of the Cava experience, for example, is checking out the menu before ordering from the options at a counter. Sensors have been used to inform redesigns to menu boards and restaurant layouts to make this process as efficient as possible. Customers no longer make their minds up at the counter and off-putting lines are reduced as a result.
Temperature sensors in the kitchens, meanwhile, have helped chefs learn which parts of the sometimes inconsistent grill are the best temperature for cooking a particular product, to the point where food-quality complaints from customers have reduced by 28 percent.
Decibel readers have been placed near ordering stations to ensure queues and seating areas aren’t hindering customers’ ability to converse with restaurant staff. Layouts are adjusted to solve problems with noise.
By using sensors and analytics in this way, Cava has taken a marginal gains approach to the restaurant business and is reaping the rewards.
Discussing Cava’s approach to innovation, Josh Patchus believes that “If you keep following the model, you’re narrowing the model.” Data-driven design “allows you take a risk, hopefully, that’s successful, and then you can broaden it out.”
Improving brand loyalty
The next thing the Cava team wants to do is tackle something less tangible than noise, queues or grill temperatures: loyalty.
The company is planning to launch a data-based loyalty program in 2018, which will offer deals to customers based on previous orders and build a stronger connection between Cava’s retail and restaurant businesses.
“Just like our line is set up where you can build your meal to your dietary needs and preferences—so you don’t have to conform to our menu, our menu conforms to you—we want it to be the same way with our communications with you,” CEO Brett Schulman told Fast Company.
“The goal is to make loyalty as valuable as possible,” said Patchus. “Customers aren’t going to use things because you want them too.”