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Pizza Hut Gets Into the Automat Business With New Pizza Lockers

The chain is testing a high-tech ordering system where customers will have no interaction with employees

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut is trying to gain an edge on the competition by testing a new version of a very old, weird restaurant gadget: the automat.

This week, the chain announces that it has installed a wall of cubbies at a location in Hollywood, California that will let guests pick up their orders without interacting with any employees. Customers can place orders through the Pizza Hut website or app, as well as in-person or over the phone, and receive their food by finding the cubby in the store bearing a digital display of their name. The goal here is to offer a “seamless and innovative carryout experience that eliminates the lines, the wait and the conversation,” according to Nicolas Burquier, Pizza Hut’s chief customer and operations officer. Of course, there is a possibility that this system — essentially Amazon lockers, but for pizza — could lead to people randomly stealing other people’s food. But a rep tells the Takeout that the cubby doors will only unlock once the customer has signed a receipt in the store, suggesting the pizza will only be hanging out in the locker, up for grabs, for a short period of time.

If the high-tech cubby system seems oddly familiar, that’s because Pizza Hut is using technology created by Eatsa, a chain of grain bowl automats that launched in New York, San Francisco, and D.C. two years ago. After quietly closing the last Eatsa location this year, Eatsa recently rebranded as Brightloom and struck up a lucrative deal with Starbucks to license some of its technology related to mobile ordering and rewards to the coffee giant. And now the company is working with one of America’s pizza chains to pilot this new iteration of its ordering and pick-up system.

Pizza Hut

Over the last two decades, Pizza Hut has been locked in a death match with Domino’s for the title of America’s most popular pizzeria — the former has more locations, while the latter has higher sales. Most of the innovations in the pizza space seem to revolve around delivery, a realm where Domino’s reigns supreme, but with this automat move, Pizza Hut might be trying to take a bite of the carry-out business that has been so successful for America’s number three pizza chain, Little Caesars. Of course, the automat model could potentially allow Pizza Hut to cut operation costs by lowering the number of staffers at its stores, but for now, Burquier notes that the Hollywood location “will be fully staffed and still have delivery service capabilities.”

By implementing this new cubby hole pick-up system, Pizza Hut is reviving a style of restaurant service that went out of fashion more than 50 years ago. Although the last outpost of the chain closed in the early ’90s, the automat company Horn and Hardart once had 157 locations locations across New York and Philadelphia serving half a million people per day. A New York restaurant called Bamn briefly tried to revive the trend in the mid-aughts, and Eatsa managed to open seven locations before collapsing last year.

While the Hollywood location is the only Pizza Hut with the automat service for now, the chain plans to bring this style of service to more locations on the West Coast next year. And if these high-tech food lockers are a hit, perhaps Pizza Hut will also bring some of its friendly robot servers over to America to make ordering a pizza a truly dystopian experience.
Pizza Hut testing cubby shelves by Brightloom, formerly Eatsa [NRN]
Pizza Hut testing carry-out pizza lockers for introverts [The Takeout]
Automated Quinoa Shop Eatsa Is Now a Tech Company Married to Starbucks [E]