Members of Chipotle’s Architecture and Design and Marketing teams recently attended Hack//Dining, a hackathon designed to create a better future for food through technology. Organized by NYC-based media company Food+Tech Connect, the event attracted over 200 attendees including chefs, entrepreneurs, developers, food journalists and business people.
What is a hackathon? It’s an event that convenes software programmers, graphic designers, project managers and others to tackle specific challenges. The goal of a hackathon is usually to create a software or hardware prototype that addresses a given problem within a specific period of time.
When Food+Tech Connect invited us to present a challenge, we jumped at the chance to ask bright thinkers for ways we could incorporate technology to help our restaurants become more sustainable.
Chipotle’s Director of Architecture and Design, Mick McConnell, presented the Chipotle Challenge: “How might we use technology to help quick-service restaurants (QSRs) measure the environmental sustainability of how their stores are designed, built and operated?”
Mick encouraged hackers to explore multiple dimensions in design (i.e. energy use, food and material waste, and operational throughput and efficiency) and to create technology that would measure these dimensions and analyze in a way that would encourage sustainability.
In addition to Chipotle, representatives from Applegate, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, and Google also presented challenges. Applegate raised concerns about communication of food preferences by consumers to foodservice providers, while B&B expressed frustration with variation in food-safety guidelines among different parts of the U.S. and with the lack of organization of food safety resources and materials. Google’s challenge asked hackers to address how corporate foodservice providers could use technology to empower individuals to achieve their personal and professional lifestyle goals.
Our team members engaged in a Q&A session with hackers who were interested in tackling our challenge. Topics ranged from food supply and distribution to consumer experience to internal communication of sustainability issues. One developer asked us, “What are three things that employees could do to improve sustainability?” Our idea is to create an environment that would eliminate the need for crew members to even think about behavioral improvements in sustainability. After hackers had an opportunity to form teams and begin hacking, feedback sessions with stakeholders were held. The session gave our team an opportunity to listen to the ideas and direct the intense hacking that would follow.
On the final day, our team listened to hacker teams’ pitches for the elimination round and picked three teams to move on to the final round. The competition was tough, but the final award went to Team Just Right. Their prototype would allow customers to create their meal through the app and would reward individuals who ordered a “more sustainable” burrito (i.e. eating less of ingredients with a large carbon footprint). The reward would be distributed by “Pepper Points,” redeemable for a free meal. As customers selected meal ingredients, they would be able to see what portions of the ingredients would award them more “Pepper Points.” Service crew members would also be able to pull up the customer’s pre-selected order on their end.
Judging was done by several notable guests from the food and tech industry, including Dave Arnold of Booker & Dax fame. The judges brought up concerns on the potential of slowing the line and the economic impact of giving away free meals, but ultimately, the awarded them the prize. The team of four will receive a tour in NYC retail design trends with our own Mick McConnell.
We are more than honored to have been invited to participate and would like to give a huge shout out to Food+Tech Connect and Studio Industries for organizing such a successful event. We can’t wait to see where innovation in food and tech takes us, and we hope our participation inspired others to think about sustainability through the lens of restaurant operations and design.