Sweetgreen is betting that its newly updated smartphone app will make its restaurants a lot more convenient for a lot of customers.
 
The quickly growing salad chain will update its smartphone app Tuesday evening. The company built an in-house technology department to develop the app, a rarity for a chain with just 39 locations.
 
It also has high expectations for the app not just to reduce wait times and improve convenience, but to be well received by customers: Sweetgreen projects that as much as 50 percent of sales will come through the app by year’s end.  
 
“When we started Sweetgreen, it was all about bridging the gap between healthy eating and convenience,” Jonathan Neman, who co-founded the chain with Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru in 2007, said in a statement. “This new app brings us one step closer by reducing wait times.”
 
To be sure, Sweetgreen has resources few small chains enjoy, with $95 million in total investments in recent years. It also has serious technology chops: Backers include Revolution Growth, the investment vehicle started by America Online co-founder Steve Case.

But Sweetgreen’s investment level and expectations for its platform remain remarkably high. If the company can receive 50 percent of its orders through the app, it would rival the online presence of tech-savvy pizza chains.

The company believes it is already well on its way toward that goal. As it is, 21 percent of in-store payments at the chain are made through the app, the company said, which is up 80 percent over last year.

The Sweetgreen Rewards app integrates mobile ordering, payment and a rewards program with a sleek interface. The goal is to keep the frequently long lines at its restaurants moving.

The company said the app enables restaurants to “dramatically increase throughput” with its changes. The app flags dietary restrictions, enables customers to save their favorite salads in four taps, integrates with the iOS Health app to track meals, and offers on-demand pickup.

Payments are processed immediately using the credit card on file, enabling orders to be prepaid. In-store users can scan the app for quick payment. The app also integrates rewards, giving users a $9 credit for every $99 spent.

Sweetgreen said that its technology and operations teams developed an algorithm to optimize online order flow and in-store salad production. That research inspired a new back-of-house setup and a designated pickup area in front so customers can grab their prepaid salads in a separate queue, the company said.

“We believe that great technology enhances real-life experiences. It does not replace true human connections,” Neman said. “We wanted to create a digital platform that mirrors the in-store experience, builds a foundation for future innovation and allows us to serve more people better food.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at jonathan.maze@penton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze