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Automated Pickup Equipment: Everything You Need To Know But Didn’t Know To Ask

Automated Pickup Equipment: Everything You Need To Know But Didn’t Know To Ask


A recent survey conducted by Hatco found that almost 70% of operations are “somewhat interested” or “very interested” in expanding or upgrading their to-go presence. But to do this, operations need the right equipment on hand to automate areas of this often labor-intensive offering. So what should you be asking to gain the full 411 on to-go equipment and identify the best automated pickup solutions for you and your operation? Let’s explore what the survey had to say about the top questions buyers in the industry are asking.

I’m interested in learning more about automated pickup equipment. What are the best options for me to look into?
With the pandemic, many operations turned to existing equipment to accommodate the extreme volume of to-go business. Indeed, not all equipment was optimal, and operators often got inventive using shelves, abandoned buffets or even carts. Now, that’s not to say some of this equipment couldn’t provide adequate pickup functionality. For instance, heated shelves or frost tops could make for a suitable, staff-operated to-go area. Or using well covers to transform a bank of buffet wells into a temporary grab-n-go pickup station worked well in many scenarios.

But the thing is, if you’re talking about the best automated pickup equipment for your operation, you’ll want to look at heated lockers, insulated pods and self-serve kiosks. But first, it’s a good idea to evaluate your current to-go area and determine your needs. For example, are dine-in and pickup customers waiting in the same line for their orders? Think about setting up a designated space with an automated pickup unit. This allows to-go customers and third-party delivery drivers to steer clear of long lines and grab their meal without help from staff. While at the same time, dine-in customers also benefit from shorter wait times — truly, everyone wins.

But it isn’t just about curbing long lines; a safe and secure location to hold food while customers wait for pickup is equally important. Fortunately, locked cubbies help eliminate unintentional or deliberate tampering from other patrons rummaging through multiple bags to grab their order. Furthermore, a locked system will help your customers (and your operation) feel more protected and at ease. That said, this protection is two-fold. With temperature-regulated lockers such as Hatco’s heated locker system maintaining food temperatures between 150°F (66°C) to 180°F (82°C), keeping food safe is simple and easy.

Automated pickup equipment seems like a great option for to-go orders. What are the capabilities and capacity of different solutions?
When thinking about the vast amount of different foodservice operations out there, it’s no question that an equipment’s footprint can be a deal-breaker (or maker). Thankfully, with multiple-sized solutions available, usable floor space doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. To give you an idea, if you’re tight on space, a smaller countertop locker unit or insulated pickup pod might be the answer. On the flip side, if you’ve got plenty of room but are struggling with a high volume of to-go orders coming in, the floor-mounted locker system is likely your best option.

Take into account that the footprint of each unit can affect the overall holding capacity since there are typically fewer lockers in the smaller systems and vice versa for larger units. Furthermore, the model type affects the cubby’s volume, impacting the amount of food each locker can hold. Additionally, there are automated lockers, such as Hatco’s Flav-R 2 Go® Pizza Locker System, specially crafted to accommodate large pizza boxes.

In addition to size and space, holding capabilities also include temperature performance. Refrigerated pickup equipment has been around for some time. However, various models are an upgrade from the sandwich vending machines of yesteryear. Heated units such as the lockers mentioned above provide the perfect holding temperatures for hot food. Some models also operate without heat if ambient holding is needed. Take a few seconds to watch a demonstration of the capabilities of two automated pickup equipment solutions by clicking the links below:

My staff and I are a little nervous about introducing automated equipment to our staff. How will it affect their hours or job security?
Excellent employees are worth their weight in gold, and taking special care to protect their job security is vital. Here’s the deal, while automated equipment can do a good portion of the heavy lifting, it doesn’t replace the human element. In actuality, automated pickup equipment simply allows staff to put their energy toward more pressing tasks. Case in point, when a kitchen worker is stretched between running the register for dine-in customers and organizing pickup orders for customers or third-party delivery drivers, it can get a little hectic. On the other hand, an automated to-go system allows pickup orders to stay safe and secure within the locker or pickup pod. And employees can breathe a little easier knowing the food will remain safe and go home with the correct customer.

How does the technology for pickup equipment work, is it easy to use?
Ah yes, technology. For some people, that word sparks joy because of what technology enables. Let’s be honest, it can also incite a bit of anxiety. But, it doesn’t have to. When technology is well-engineered and user-friendly, it solves problems, eases challenges, and makes life just that much easier. As an illustration, Hatco’s heated locker systems provide a quick and effortless solution for pickup customers and delivery drivers. Once inside the establishment, the customer simply taps the illuminated touchscreen with their name, enters their order code or even scans a QR code and voila — the correct locker opens and the customer has their meal at just the right temperature. All of it together is a seamless, easy interaction and an example of technology at its best.

In addition to easily accessing a tasty meal, some pickup equipment uses technology to integrate with different point of sale (POS) systems. For example, Hatco’s Pickup Pod™ can integrate with POS systems Toast and Square, enabling information entered into the POS system to automatically register with the pickup pod. No additional manual entry of customer information is needed. In short, that means more time to focus on other important tasks, which is always a win for foodservice operations.

I think an automated pickup solution is the right choice, but what will it cost me?
There are many different models of automated pickup equipment available and each one can vary in price. The cost of your equipment is often determined by the needs of your establishment and which model you choose. Additionally, purchasing equipment outright isn’t the only way for pickup equipment to become a part of your operation. In fact, Hatco offers leasing options for many of their automated pickup equipment solutions (you can find some of the pricing information on all of that here and here). In addition to an overall price point, be aware that some equipment is software-as-a-service (SaaS) powered. This software delivery model requires an ongoing fee (usually monthly). But don’t worry, those fees aren't just another empty cost. Instead, they come with money and labor-saving benefits like vendor-managed software, data analytics, integration opportunities and much more.

It’s important that I see a high return on my equipment investment. Will that happen with automated pickup equipment?
There’s no denying it; commercial kitchen equipment often requires a significant financial investment, and weighing your return on that investment (ROI) can help to justify your purchase. But what’s the best way to determine what equipment will deliver a positive ROI? Start by asking yourself some questions like, will this equipment help support my current or future menu? Or will this unit increase my establishment's efficiency? And finally, will the quality of the food be positively affected?

To go further, think about other factors such as fewer maintenance costs, decreased downtime of equipment, and decreased labor through automation. In addition, leasing an automated pickup solution is another aspect to explore helping to boost your ROI. However, in the end, if your establishment limits bottlenecks in service while providing a safe, secure and hassle-free to-go set up, customers will take notice. And that, no doubt, will skyrocket your operation's ROI.

What should I do if something goes wrong with the equipment I purchase?
It’s inevitable, equipment doesn’t last forever. And even quality units require maintenance from time to time. So, what should you do if your automated pickup unit breaks down? First, check if the unit is under warranty. If it is, that’s excellent news. Contact the manufacturer and follow their directions to ensure you stay within warranty compliance. However, if enough time has passed and the warranty isn’t valid (or a particular fix isn’t part of the warranty), contact a technician or company that works specifically with commercial restaurant equipment. Some manufacturers provide recommendations on vetted technicians helping to safeguard you from faulty or subpar equipment servicing.

What details should I know about automated pickup equipment’s installation and setup?
Gaining knowledge of what installation and setup look like before you jump in with both feet is always a wise decision. For starters, if you’re purchasing a Hatco pickup pod or heated locker, these units are designed only for indoor use and shouldn't be installed anywhere they're exposed to the elements. Another thing to keep in mind is the electrical specifications. Always look into the available voltage of your building and order a unit that’s rated to match. In addition, be sure the circuit can handle the amp load. And if your operation is outside the US, confirm a 50 or 60 hertz is available for equipment compatibility. (It’s all pretty technical, this post might help make sense of it all). Lastly, as mentioned above, it’s good to be aware and prepared for any SaaS fees that accompany products such as the Hatco Pickup Pod.

Scratching the surface.

Phew, that’s a lot of information to take in. In short, automated to-go solutions boost efficiency by growing to-go capabilities, increase dine-in and pickup customer service and help bring the best food quality to to-go orders. But we’re just scratching the surface here. If you’re interested in purchasing or leasing one of Hatco’s automated pickup solutions, we’re ready to help walk you through it. To learn more contact us or check out our order pickup station and food locker page today.

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