A hexagonal bowl that was part of a test for Sweetgreen
Serena Dai

Earlier this year, cult salad chain Sweetgreen debuted some new bowls that were huge, honeycomb-shaped, and frankly, kind of ridiculous looking. Turns out they were just a test at the Wall Street location, but they served a specific purpose: to better serve people who pick up salads or grain bowls through the restaurant’s mobile app.

Restaurant company co-founder Nic Jammet says since the chain went cashless and launched a a mobile app for ordering, more than 30 percent of all orders now come from the app, which means more people are ordering from the office and stop at a chosen location for pick-up instead of waiting in notoriously long lunch lines. Although he declined to say how much the app has increased sales, Jammet says it hasn’t cut into profits from conventional ordering.

The transition hasn’t been without hiccups. One problem is that Sweetgreen staff doesn’t toss pick-up salads, with the idea that it helps maintain quality (less wilted greens, faster turnaround). That means diners have been coating leaves with dressing themselves in the original bowls that aren’t suited for it. Pick-up salads end up not as good because they’re not made with the same attention to detail as in-person orders.

Sounds like a big old first world problem, and it totally is. But for the devoted followers of Sweetgreen, it has been a significant complaint. “That’s a major problem we’re trying to solve,” Jammet says.

The big hexagonal bowls at the Wall Street location from earlier this year are an attempt to solve the problem with a wider bowl that makes mixing easier, he says. They wanted to hear feedback on whether or not people who used the app liked it better. (Jammet says people responded positively, though that was not a unanimous opinion.) They have no plans to introduce the new bowl to other locations, but they are working on alternate ways to fix the issue.

“Nothing is wrong with our packaging today,” Jammet says. “It’s how we can make it better, how we can optimize the experience, especially for people ordering online.”

Sweetgreen is not alone in needing to tweak their real-world hardware to meet virtual demands. Many fast-casual and fast-food restaurants have been launching apps, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, Taco Bell, and Chipotle. They have increased sales for many of them, depending on how well-designed the app is.

But because food and drink is still very much planted in the physical world, companies have had to make some adjustments. For example, the “skip the line” mobile app for Starbucks created a new problem where there’s now a line for pick-up instead of at the cashier — stalling traffic flow in stores. The coffee giant has had to hire more baristas and most recently has even been experimenting with a cafe that relies only on mobile app ordering, eliminating the need for cashiers.

Jammet, who co-founded Sweetgreen in 2007 with Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman in DC, says they haven’t nailed down a fix for their issue yet. Just don’t be surprised if your location of Sweetgreen has a funky looking new bowl for a while.

[“Source-eater”]