Paramount creates an automated restaurant

The new Box'd concept was created to handle online orders, but now helps address customer concerns about dining in.


Even as restaurants across Canada prepare to reopen, Paramount Fine Foods is introducing “Canada’s first fully automated restaurant,” a click-and-collect in downtown Toronto to attract customers who remain wary of dining in.

The Middle Eastern food QSR is introducing its digital Box’d concept, where guests place orders in advance via a mobile app or through a digital kiosk in-store. Digital status boards within the restaurant update guests on when their food is ready. Meals are sealed in sustainable packaging and delivered to locker-like cubbies, sanitized before after each order and accessible by a unique code given at the time of ordering.

“We understand that people may still be a little wary of public places, so we have created a dining option that is fast, efficient, and safe,” says Mohamad Fakih, president and CEO of Paramount Fine Foods.

Fakih tells strategy that the concept has more line cooks and fewer front of house staff. The concept was in the works pre-pandemic as a solution to address delivery and pickup line bottlenecks, which could annoy customers as staff prioritized fulfilling delivery orders. With Box’d, he says, there are enough cubbies to serve 20 customers at the same time, “a touchless way of doing things fast and easy.” According to Fakih, “evolving your brand every ten years is a must”; the pandemic just ushered in changes that were inevitable.

According to Fakih, the brand waited until the concept was “100% ready” because of the technology challenges of organizing orders that frequently come in en masse around specific times. Fakih says that while the restaurant is digital, he still wanted the personal touch of the concierge greeting people as they arrive.

The brand consulted with chef Tomer Markovitz for a modern spin on Middle Easter food, like using spinach instead of parsley in its tabbouleh, menu additions like truffle hummus and more on-trend vegetarian and vegan options.

To promote Box’d, Paramount is primarily using organic media, as well as “lots of social media and digital media influencers.” To explain the concept, videos use simple animation and the tagline, “we believe your health and safety is paramount,” adapting a more safety-focused message than it might have otherwise, given current customer concerns. The creative also emphasizes that, despite the “automated” elements, the food is still made by real chefs.

Fakih bought the chain in 2006 after immigrating from Lebanon, when the food business then was just about product and how you served it and word of mouth. He says the brand discovered it needed to market differently and to pay very close attention to pictures and posts related to its restaurants: “Our social media team became one of the most important players within the brand,” he says. Pre-pandemic, online orders had already constituted 35% of Paramount’s business.

In March, at the DX3 conference, Fakih confessed that the experience of going into an establishment and enjoying its ambiance is becoming less important and “many people in the food industry are making their restaurants smaller, thanks to digital ordering and delivery options.” Fakih says the hope is that adding an efficient system in a high-traffic area will also attract more users to the restaurant’s app.

Insights from Box’d, Fakih says, will inform future expansion. Locations larger than 2,500 square feet will not be renovated. While the first Box’d location is open in Toronto’s Financial District, he says the cubby pick up model is also being deployed at Paramount’s midtown and Chinatown locations: “Until there is a COVID vaccine, people won’t be 100% comfortable,” he says.

As part of the brand’s commitment to its four Ps (purpose, people, planet, and profit), Paramount is continuing to use containers made from sustainable materials (COVID is not an excuse to get away with environmentally unstainable practises, Fakih says) and Paramount was one of several large QSRs engaged in acts of corporate kindness, discounting food or handing out free coffee and meals for hospital staff. This week, the restaurant’s Peel location hosted a food drive with Mississauga’s Raptors 905 and Hand Up Toronto, which provides ready-made meals and necessities to communities in need.