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Smashburger leaning on contactless tech post-COVID: 'The business has to transition'

Amid soaring inflation and intense competition, Smashburger is turning towards tech innovation to stand out.

"The business has to transition," Smashburger President Carl Bachmann told Yahoo Finance Live (video above), adding that the pandemic accelerated the need for services like virtual drive-thrus, digital ordering, and contactless options.

The brand, which operated as a primarily dine-in model pre-COVID, quickly pivoted to increased takeout offerings, which led to a spike in digital and call-in orders of nearly 450%.

Seeing the need to reach more consumers through digital channels, the burger chain has since doubled down on its goal to build new restaurant prototypes that are more conducive to the digital transformation.

Smashburger's Scorchin’ Hot Crispy Chicken Sandwich (Courtesy: Smashburger)
Smashburger's Scorchin’ Hot Crispy Chicken Sandwich (Courtesy: Smashburger)

"Fast casual is changing, and we need to make sure that this omni-channel approach gives more people access to our products and our services," Bachmann said. "If you want to be successful today, you have to have that approach and really give extra access points to consumer."

Bachmann added that those omni-channel tech improvements have also helped consumers more easily justify higher prices, explaining that rising costs have forced the company to rethink its strategies.

"You just have to think about doing business a little differently," the executive explained, citing the chain's virtual drive-through program as an example of how tech can help Smashburger's customers achieve "simpler, quicker, and easier" access to its food.

"That gives a person who's maybe juggling jobs and home and everything else, another option to get a fast-casual, higher-level quality experience without even leaving their car," he said.

Although the chain is hyper-focused on "upping" its game, especially as competitors also introduce their own technological advancements, Bachmann isn't concerned about it having a negative impact on his workforce. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity.

Smashburger's new Queens location (Courtesy: Smashburger)
Smashburger's new Queens location (Courtesy: Smashburger)

"We're going to need more workers as our volumes pick up," he said, adding that technology allows the chain to operate at a quicker pace, increases revenues, and lessens its overall footprint — especially from a drive-thru perspective."

A virtual drive-through means that employees can handle multiple functions at once while guests pre-order and prepay on their own.

"What this does is it creates this ability to have a smaller footprint," Bachmann said. "It makes less real estate, less traffic congestion. A lot of municipalities are not happy with the traffic congestion during the pandemic with the amount of drive-throughs and the stacks of cars. So with a virtual drive-through, that kind of technology will get us to a three- or four-car stack instead of a 40-car stack."

Alexandra is a Senior Entertainment and Food Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193 and email her at alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com

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