How fast food chains are working to keep employees, customers and the food supply safe amid coronavirus

Digitization has enabled brands like Chipotle to adapt quickly during COVID-19

Technology platforms are becoming more important than ever and are helping restaurants adhere to protocols as compliance guidelines evolve amid the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 landscape has accelerated a new normal when it comes to digitization and safety standards within fast-food restaurants, said Zenput CEO and founder Vlad Rikhter.

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“COVID-19 has expedited the move to technology, and we're seeing tremendous adoption from companies for technologies like ours, technologies around loyalty, and around safety,” Rikhter told Fox Business.

Zenput is a tech platform that works with large restaurant and retail chains to automate how operating procedures, food safety and public health protocols, and other key initiatives are rolled out and enforced across locations. According to Rikhter, over 500 clients, including Domino's, Chipotle, Five Guys, P.F. Chang's, Sweet Green, and 7-Eleven, are using Zenput to support 50,000-plus locations across over 40 countries.

Scott Boatwright, the Chief Restaurant Officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill, said the fast-casual chain partnered with Zenput back in 2017. The move came after Chipotle began adopting more comprehensive food safety protocols following its highly publicized foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015. Boatwright noted that Chipotle was previously using analog checklists and spreadsheets to keep track of safety procedures, but recognized that those methods were untenable to the scale of the brand.

“With Zenput, we recognized a pretty significant opportunity to evaluate performance and operations across a system that was, at that time, 2,200 to 2,300 restaurants strong across the United States,” said Boatwright. “We needed a way that we could ensure that the things that we held dearest in the guest experience were being delivered- as expected-across the entire enterprise. We really didn't have a consistent way to do it then.”

Zenput’s technology allows chains to ensure every location knows what work they need to do to keep the environment safe for employees and customers. In turn, the technology delivers accountability and lets the chain know if work is being accomplished and protocols are being followed. Hourly employees, for example, log into Zenput's mobile application after they've clocked into work and the tech delivers actionable items for the employees to carry out.

According to both Rikhter and Boatwright, the ability to be agile in updating safety procedures across restaurants has become critical amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“In today's world you've got a lot of changes happening within every city, every municipality, every state,” said Rikhter. “That ability to communicate a message and update standards to thousands of employees out in the field is crucial.”

Chipotle has been among the top-performing restaurants when it comes to health and safety compliance during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Restaurant Dive. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Chipotle invested heavily in air purification systems, used Purell hand sanitizer in all of its locations, implemented employee wellness checks before every shift, and had trained nurses available to evaluate employees.

Boatwright told FOX Business that because of these preexisting protocols it was much easier for the company to pivot amid the pandemic.

“We did have to enhance those protocols based on the things that we felt most important to protect our team members and our guests, including moving-up handwashing and glove-changing from every hour to every 30 minutes,” said Boatwright. “The infrastructure was in place, however, to implement a lot of these changes.”

Chipotle’s chief restaurant officer added that Zenput enabled the brand to be agile in the pandemic as standards quickly changed. The tech platform enabled Chipotle to aggregate information at the restaurant-level and efficiently move it to leadership teams. That, in turn, enabled leadership to make decisions about the business in real-time and impacted Chipotle’s bottom line. The brand’s Second Quarter 2020 results revealed digital sales grew 216.3% year-over-year and accounted for 60.7% of sales.

Rikhter added that while the coronavirus pandemic has thrown countless obstacles toward the restaurant industry, new standards will create a safer environment for employees and customers alike.

“I think we're going to come out of this pandemic as a much more efficient and quality-driven society, and that digitization will help keep employees and customers confident that they are being kept safe.”

For more on how Zenput works and how Chipotle has implemented the technology, watch the full video above.

Emily DeCiccio is a reporter and video producer for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio.