Where are you
selling food today? Just this month
retailer after retailer seems to be experimenting with a new format, platform,
delivery type, or menu item that ‘travels well’, according to Steven Johnson, Grocerant Guru®
at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice
These days, even the most regional
restaurant chains are investing in new store prototypes with smaller dining
rooms and increased focus on drive-thru’s and digital orders. To keep up with
consumer demand, the most tech-forward brands are coming up with even flashier,
digital-forward store designs, like Taco
Bell’s newly announced ‘Defy’ four lane-drive thru design.
Just consider some of what you have read
about this month on this blog alone. The restaurant industry observed
several new digital technology-focused store prototypes being announced,
including at Taco Bell and Panera.
Yes, robots are again taking up space in
the restaurant industry, with Grubhub bringing delivery bots to college
campuses and Chick-fil-A investing in AI. Also, the latest food brand to dive
into the metaverse is Kraft, which filed trademarks for NFTs and a future
digital restaurant. Is the Metaverse a true platform or is it a place where
kids will play, and retailers compete for young eyeballs? How long will it be before you see a return on
a investments in the Metaverse?
Once again Tech Tracker rounds up what’s
happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news
from restaurants, vendors, digital platforms, and third-party delivery
companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and why:
Kraft enters the metaverse
Kraft became the latest — and one of the
largest — food companies to enter the metaverse by filing trademark applications for its brands Kraft, Jell-o, Kool-Aid, Velveeta, Lunchables,
Oscar Meyer, and Philadelphia. Like almost every other brand before it, Kraft
has not made any official announcement of plans for its digital presence, but
the trademark includes NFTs, and virtual restaurants, food and drinks. Kraft
isn’t the only restaurant to make the digital dive: Tony Roma’s applied for NFT
trademarks in the metaverse last month.
Panera and Taco Bell launch digital
tech-forward store formats
Panera Bread and Taco Bell have both been
tech pioneers in the restaurant industry and now both brands are pushing the
boundaries of tech-forward store prototypes.
Taco Bell’s new store offering will be known as “Defy” and opened
in Brooklyn Park, Minn. this month with four drive-thru lanes and a host of
digital tech conveniences like digital check-in screens that let customers
place orders via QR code and get their food delivered by a contactless
proprietary lift system, while two-way audio and video features will allow
customers to chat with employees throughout the touchless process.
While Panera Bread’s new Panera To Go unit with
no seating is not nearly as flashy as Taco Bell, it’s worth noting that Panera
has been pushing the boundaries of contactless technology since the pandemic
began. Panera to Go follows the announcement of contactless dine-in service,
and has both a drive-thru and a pickup area for guests and delivery drivers.
Chick-fil-A now has delivery robots
Chick-fil-A is the latest quick-service
restaurant to dabble in AI technology. The chicken chain is partnering with
Refraction AI to test autonomous delivery at two
locations in Austin, Texas (which is proving to be the hotbed of autonomous
delivery and drone tests).
This self-driving robot drives either in
the bike lane or shoulder of the road and is designed to complete last-mile
deliveries without pressing further labor needs.
“The platform will allow us to provide
fast, high quality, and cost-effective meal delivery within a mile radius of
our restaurant all while helping to keep the community we serve environmentally
clean and safe,” Chick-fil-A franchisee Luke Steigmeyer said about the service
being tested at his restaurant.
Grubhub brings autonomous delivery to
Speaking of delivery robots, Grubhub is
investing in AI and bringing bots to college campuses nationally this fall in
partnership with Cartken. The pilot was tested in partnership with Ohio State
University this spring and will now be rolled out to 250 college campuses when
students return from summer break.
"We're thrilled to be working with
Grubhub to delight students and campus staff with robot delivery,"
Christian Bersch, CEO of Cartken said in a statement. "This collaboration
perfectly aligns with our mission to use robotics and AI technology to provide
friction-free and environmentally sustainable delivery, and have robots serve
Lunchbox acquires digital ordering
Tech trailblazer Lunchbox has entered the
acquisition space for a second time with the announcement that the company has
agreed to acquire NovaDine, which offers an end-to-end digital ordering
solution. NovaDine’s roster of restaurant partners includes Firehouse Subs,
Torchy's Tacos, Taco Bueno, and Steak & Shake—which have now been added to
Lunchbox’s list of partners.
This announcement comes on the heels of
Lunchbox’s acquisition of online marketplace, Spread. With these acquisitions,
Lunchbox cements its goal of becoming the go-to end-to-end tech solution.
"Traditionally, restaurants have
faced the enormous hurdle of having to choose between multiple different
technology tools to run their businesses, understand their digital clients and
scale operations,” Lunchbox CEO Nabeel Alamgir said in a
statement. “NovaDine has built an entire platform that enables the
operator to manage all digital orders from a single operating system.”
DoorDash adds Yelp-like review features
DoorDash has been busy over the past
month, with the finalization of food delivery company Wolt’s acquisition, and
the announcement that the company would launch and curate in-app reviews, much
like Yelp, to expand its algorithm to customer recommendations.
DoorDash now offers customers lists of
top-rated restaurants in their neighborhood, with features including written
reviews and most liked items, to end the customer tendency of endless, aimless
scrolling through the DoorDash app.
DoorDash is the last of the “big three”
delivery companies to add written reviews, but the first to include curated top
10 lists for customers based on cuisine, location, etc.
Square launches mobile POS capabilities
POS systems are making the upgrade as
operators demand for more capabilities on handheld devices, as opposed to
traditional POS systems. Square announced last month a new capability: Square
for Restaurants mobile POS, which allows servers to take orders and payments
through the device in their pockets. The two devices Square will be using are
Square Terminal and the upcoming Restaurant Mobile POS kit, which will be
released this fall.
Features of these new devices include
order flow management from kitchen to table, route tickets, connections to
loyalty programs and integration with OpenTable.
BentoBox now does payments
BentoBox joins the throng of tech
companies racing to add features and become an “all in one” tech solution: the
all-new BentoBox Payments is in partnership with Clover and allows employees to
take orders, process payments and manage them all in one platform.
“Restaurants don’t have the time or
resources to balance countless dashboards and partners. Instead, they need
simple, unified solutions that enable them to reach their customers on their
terms,” Krystle Mobayeni, cofounder of BentoBox and head of restaurants at
Fiserv said in a statement. “We’re meeting this need and bringing restaurants a
customizable platform that improves front- and back-of-house operations and
delivers an exceptional digital experience for diners.”
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