Restaurant Brands International (RBI), parent company of Burger King, Tim Horton’s, and Popeye’s, is doubling down on its efforts to modernize its brands and in doing so keep pace with competitors in the world of quick-service restaurants. On its earnings call this week, RBI’s CEO José Cil highlighted several milestones as well as goals for the future around making the drive-thru line faster, stores more digital-friendly, and individual customer orders more personalized.
Tim Horton’s, a chain largely based in Canada and with a scattering of U.S. locations, is currently testing new digital menu boards in drive-thrus, using technology to gather information like weather, time of day, location, and more, and use it to better tailor offerings to each individual customer. If that sounds like a familiar story, it is. McDonald’s more or less started this wave of AI-powered drive-thru efforts last year when it acquired Dynamic Yield in 2019. Others, including KFC and Dunkin’, are also testing their own iterations of the drive-thru of the future.
Beyond the fact that personalized menu boards are supposed to improve order accuracy and offer more relevant upsell items to each customer, they are also practically speaking, a little easier for the restaurant to manage. Speaking on this week’s call, Cil pointed out that the company’s current menu boards cost “millions of dollars each year” to print and update, and that they are time-consuming to change out, as the task has to be done manually by staff members multiple times per day. “Switching to digital menu boards in the drive-through will free up time for team members to focus on serving guests while ensuring that the proper information is always on display,” he said.
Tim Horton’s already has these menu boards in “several hundred stores” and the company will install them “across most drive-thru locations over the next 12 to 18 months.” As well, the company is revamping its loyalty program for digital orders, moving it into its second phase where rewards and offers will be more tailored to the individual customer. Cil noted that this second phase will “drive digital registration and a lot of powerful tools like sales intelligence and one-to-one marketing that we’ll use to develop stronger relationships with our guests and drive incremental sales over time.”
Getting more intelligence behind its digital platforms to improve personalization is a goal for RBI across all its brands as the company strives to compete with the McDonald’s and Starbucks of the world. At Burger King, this will be in the form of the brand’s Burger King of Tomorrow Restaurants, the chain’s newly redesigned store format that emphasizes things like digital ordering via self-service kiosks and double drive-thru lanes. Cil said on the call that the company opened more than 800 of these stores in 2019.
Burger King of Tomorrow joins a long list of restaurants revamping their store formats to be more tech-centric and better able to fulfill delivery and takeout orders, which will account for the lion’s share of restaurant sales in the coming years. To that end, Burger King also offers delivery at 4,200 of its stores and works with multiple third-party services (DoorDash, Postmates, etc.) to fulfill orders.
As mentioned earlier, a large part of this technology push is to keep up with other QSRs running billion-dollar-plus digital businesses, namely Chipotle and McDonald’s, which are making AI and more customized menus a major part of their strategies. If 2019 was the year off-premises ordering became table stakes, 2020 will (probably) be the year personalization takes that title. RBI’s latest moves and future plans underscore how much the company wants its brands to be ahead, or at least with, the pack when that happens.
Speaking of personalization, you can hear my conversation about how it will change the restaurant business at Customize, the Spoon’s food personalization summit, in just two weeks.