Is it Worth Opening on Christmas? Plus, the AI Kiosk

#WednesdayWisdom in MRM’s Daily Bite includes news from CAKE, Cali Group and NEC Corporation of America, GreenRiver and Hope for the Day, Impossible Burger and Walk-On’s Enterprises.

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Holiday Happiness 

A great debate in the restaurant community this time of year is whether or not to open Christmas Day. The experts at CAKE passed along some interesting statistics concerning December restaurant revenue, specifically Christmas day.

Findings include:

  • Christmas day has the highest average sales and highest average ticket size during the month of December
  • The month of December also has the highest average ticket size of the year, and is among the top five performing months

From 2014 – 2016:

  • Average ticket size rose at least 10 percent on December 25 compared with December 24
  • Conversely, in all 3 years, average ticket size fell by at least 10 percent on December 26 compared with December 25
  • In all years, restaurants saw relatively normal ticket size and sales on December 24, an increase on December 25, and a fall back to normalcy on December 26.

“December is an important month for restaurants, offering the highest average ticket size of the year,” said Mani Kulasooriya, CEO of CAKE. “We know that making the decision to stay open on Christmas rather than spending time with family can be difficult for some restaurant owners, which is why we took a closer look at our customers YOY revenue trends on the holiday. Our data shows that on Christmas day restaurants see the highest average sales and highest average ticket size during the month of December. We’ve seen this trend recur over the last three years, thus making it a worthwhile choice for restaurants to stay open for the holiday.”

Smile, You’re at CaliBurger

Cali Group and NEC Corporation of America unveiled new AI-enabled self-ordering kiosks at CaliBurger, Cali Group’s restaurant operating division.  The kiosks use NEC’s NeoFace® facial recognition software to identify registered customers and pull up their loyalty accounts and order preferences. The kiosk pilot program is now at CaliBurger’s Pasadena location, where the Quick Serve Restaurant chain showcases new technologies developed by its parent company. If customers are pleased with the new ordering experience, the kiosks will be rolled out to CaliBurger’s global locations next year. Also in 2018, the platform will be used to allow customers to pay using their faces.   

As shown in the demo video above customers will have the option of immediately activating their loyalty accounts as they approach the kiosks without needing to swipe a card or type in identifying information. The loyalty account shows a customer’s favorite historical meal packages, enabling the customer to complete the ordering transaction in a matter of seconds.

“Face-based loyalty significantly reduces the friction associated with loyalty program registration and use; further, it enables a restaurant chain like CaliBurger to provide a customized, one-on-one interactive experience at the ordering kiosk,” said John Miller, Chairman and CEO of Cali Group.  “Our goal for 2018 is to replace credit card swipes with face-based payments. Facial recognition is part of our broader strategy to enable the restaurant and retail industries to provide the same kinds of benefits and conveniences in the built world that customers experience with retailers like Amazon in the digital world.”

In addition to using facial recognition to enhance and improve the customer experience in restaurants, Cali Group is pioneering: AI and robotics to automate kitchen equipment and monitor the dining area; social gaming for entertainment in the dining area; and infrastructure for autonomous vehicles to deliver fresh food.    

Cali Group worked with global technology firm NEC Corporation of America to integrate NEC’s facial recognition technology into its loyalty program.  In 2017, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology ranked NEC’s platform the most accurate in the world for one-to-many searching. 

“NEC’s face recognition software technology is considered among the world’s most accurate, making it an ideal tool for retailers seeking to provide the best possible customer service and convenience for their customers,” said Matt Worley, Vice President, Retail Solutions, NEC Corporation of America. “We are committed to helping Cali Group reinvent the customer experience in the best ways possible, and I encourage anyone attending NRF 2018 to come see a demonstration of the technology in action.”

Photos and video courtesy of Cali Group.

121 Plates to Raise Awareness

On Sunday, Jan. 21, six of Chicago’s most well-respected chefs and mixologists come together at GreenRiver (259 E. Erie St., 18th floor) to raise money and awareness for mental health.

The benefit dinner, entitled 121 Plates, symbolizes the 121 Americans who complete suicide each day, and gives participating chefs a platform to break the silence about suicide prevention in the hospitality industry and beyond.

The evening consists of a one-time-only, six-course dinner with optional beverage pairings prepared by: Brian Ahern (Boeufhaus), Aaron Lirette (GreenRiver), Ryan McCaskey (Acadia), Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird), Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia/Proxi), and Laura Kelton (Sportsman’s Club).

Seatings for the benefit dinner begin at 5 p.m. with the last seating taken at 9 p.m. Tickets are priced at $121 per person, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $48 per person. Sportsman’s Club offers an a la carte cocktail selection at the GreenRiver bar throughout the evening. Tickets can be purchased online at

All the funds from the dinner are being donated directly to Sip of Hope, the world’s first coffee shop where 100 percent of the proceeds support proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. Sip of Hope is a project between Hope for the Day and Dark Matter coffee, and is scheduled to open in Logan Square this Spring.

GreenRiver  is the Michelin-starred restaurant by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group located in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. With one of the city’s largest outdoor terraces, GreenRiver boasts sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the city’s downtown skyline. Native Chicagoan and Executive Chef Aaron Lirette’s menu is solidly rooted in Midwestern mentality, paying tribute to Chicago’s culinary past and present, with nods to modern gastronomy technique. GreenRiver’s nationally-recognized bar program is led by Head Bartender Amit Gilad, a transplant from Israel, who incorporates his diverse background into the 22-drink cocktail menu. The ingredient-driven menu is organized to reflect guests’ ‘mood of the moment’ with the categories Refresh, Contemplate, Indulge, and Savor. Barrel-aged cocktails round out the drink menu, which is complemented by an all-American wine list and craft beers on tap, predominantly from Chicago breweries. GreenRiver also offers a variety of versatile dining and event spaces including Gallery at GreenRiver and Annex.

Impossible Foods Partners with DOT Foods

Impossible Foods launched a new sales channel with DOT Foods, America’s largest food redistributor that gives them a national sales network and allows more restaurateurs to order the award-winning Impossible Burger. Mt. Sterling, Ill.- based DOT has nine distribution centers serving all 50 states, with deliveries of the Impossible Burger starting January 2, 2018 nationwide.

Impossible Burger

Launched in 2016 in a handful of restaurants in New York and California, the Impossible Burger is now available in nearly 400 restaurants from Hawaii to Maine. Demand heated up in December when Impossible Foods launched its #DemandImpossible campaign, with about 8,000 consumers asking local restaurants to start serving the plant-based burger.

“The Impossible Burger is that rare menu item that excites customers and generates lines around the block — a real differentiator in America’s highly competitive restaurant sector,” said Impossible Foods’ SVP of Sales, Stephanie Lind. “We want to make it as easy as possible for restaurants to get the Impossible Burger, and that means working with the most trusted, reputable distributors in the food industry.”

DOT’s nationwide network will make it easier for restaurants — from high-volume establishments and regional chains to mom-and-pop diners — to order and serve the Impossible Burger in response to local demand.

The Impossible Burger is the only plant-based burger featured in all of America’s most beloved “better burger” concepts Bareburger, Umami Burger, Hopdoddy, The Counter, Fatburger, Gott’s and B Spot, owned by Chef Michael Symon.

Adding the Impossible Burger to the menu has increased guest headcount by up to 13 percent compared to restaurants in the same chain that do not have the burger. In addition, adding the Impossible Burger to a restaurant’s menu has increased gross sales by up to 30 percent year-over-year compared to restaurants in the same chain that do not have the burger. The Impossible Burger has increased repeat customer visits by up to 30 percent.

After the Oakland plant is fully ramped up, Impossible Foods plans to launch retail sales. The company is also developing additional plant-based meat and dairy products.

Walk-On’s Enterprises Sells Catering Arm

Walk-On’s Enterprises executed an agreement with Wayne Stabiler Companies allowing them to acquire Walk-On’s Catering. Day-to-day operations will remain the same, so customers can continue to order their favorite menu items for holiday events.

“Over the course of 2018, we will transition Walk-On’s Catering to Catering Cajun and Le Creole Catering,” said President of Walk-On’s Catering Fritz Carville. “These two Wayne Stabiler Catering companies are top notch and will bring guests even more delicious offerings, including upscale options.”

This agreement continues Walk-On’s Enterprises’ goal of making Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar’s franchising and growth their singular focus. The company also sold their previous concepts – The Roux House and Happy’s Irish Pub – in 2014 and 2016, which started the process of focusing on Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar as their sole entity.

“We have full confidence in the Wayne Stabiler Companies and have no doubt that they’re going to do amazing things for catering operations,” said ounder and owner Brandon LandryLandry. “We look forward to what is to come with our restaurant concept because this allows our Walk-On’s Enterprises team to solely focus on the franchising and growth of Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar.”

Walk-On’s now has 16 locations: four in Baton Rouge, two in New Orleans and one each in Lafayette, Houma, Shreveport, Lake Charles, Covington, Broussard and Bossier City, La., and Lubbock, San Antonio and Tyler, Texas. Other locations are coming soon in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, with several additional markets across the Southern U.S. likewise on the drawing board.