An incomplete restaurant technology glossary
I hate jargon too, but here we are.
“Explain what this actually means,” or “our readers probably don’t know what this is,” or even, “can we cut the jargon?” This is usually how the best editors respond to the first drafts I file at other publications.
I’ve written about the restaurant technology business for the last decade, but I still get trapped in industry jargon and buzzwords. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, they make their way into this newsletter.
Though I may try to resist introducing new words and terms for what’s happening here, the truth is: there are entirely new categories of businesses that need their own labels. The business keeps changing, and more people are interested in what’s happening and how to get in on the action. So goes the new vocab.
In honor of the last week before the unofficial end of summer AND a big Expedite relaunch coming next week* (!!!) I’ve compiled the new, the ridiculous, the actually useful in a non-exhaustive restaurant technology glossary.
Refer back as necessary — I certainly will.
What did I miss?
What is a ghost kitchen?
Could this digital-forward revolutionize the industry? That depends who you ask and when you ask them! The once booming business has taken several blows of late, signaling it might not be the darling it was once considered. Still, the concept has spurred an entire industry from branding to financing, all hoping to cash in on the hype.
Ghost kitchen: It’s emerged as the term of choice for the kitchens that support restaurants made for off-premises dining. (Ugh, one definition in and I did it already. Off-premises dining means there’s no dining room.) I use this term to refer to the physical spaces producing food.
Cloud kitchen - Before the eponymous brand mucked it up with big real estate deals and alleged empty promises to its clients, cloud kitchen was simply another term for a ghost kitchen; a restaurant kitchen for a brand that exists only (or mostly) on the internet.
Dark kitchen - Again, same thing, though this term carries a little more mystery. Experts agree that shrouding a virtual restaurant concept and its kitchens in secrecy is a tricky way forward; customers have reacted poorly to the brands that have tried this. The most famous example is Pasqualle’s Pizza, served out of the kitchen of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants; but every so often a new investigative report “uncovers” all the brands working out of one address and the internet collectively freaks out.
Virtual brand: A restaurant brand that lives entirely (or almost entirely) online. There’s no restaurant, no dining room, no drive-thru, no signs on the freeway encouraging drivers to “exit in 10 miles.” These concepts can be spun up fast, taking advantage of TikTok trends or pop culture moments. Celebrities and influencers love them, and have gotten involved with brands of their own: MrBeast Burger, Pauly D’s Italian Subs, Mariah Carey’s Cookies, and on, and on. Entire companies have been formed to manage these brand portfolios, licensing them to restaurants with extra space in the kitchen.
Virtual food hall: This is the online version of the mall food court of our youth; a collection of restaurant brands, usually produced under one roof, and packaged in a way that lets the diner order from multiple brands for delivery (or sometimes pickup) in just one order. Technically, this is a challenging proposition; market leader DoorDash is only just getting into order add-ons, or upsells from local businesses like 7-Eleven that can be quickly tacked onto an existing order.
Micro food hall: A publicist used this term in an email the other day, and I *think* it means basically the same thing as the above, maybe on a smaller scale? It refers to several disparate restaurant brands operating in close proximity — sometimes in the same kitchen — making food available for people to order online.
Kitchen vessel: This one was started by Reef, the parking-lot-turned-mobile-kitchen company which lets brands operate ghost kitchens from trailers parked in unused spaces (like urban parking lots.) The company likely hopes “vessel” will replace “trailer” in the lexicon; practically speaking, though, these vessels have had their share of problems, including serious safety issues.
Annoying business terms for the stuff we do every day
Lest I start to sound too much like a LinkedIn influencer with something to prove, I’ll remind you that restaurant technology is full of nuance and the details matter. That’s why terms like this creep into my writing and reporting. Forgive me.
Native ordering: Refers to ordering through an online channel directly from a restaurant instead of a third party like DoorDash. But! There are plenty of companies that get in on the “native ordering” business, building the apps and platforms that restaurants use to accept orders directly from customers.
White labeling: This is when a larger company creates technology for a restaurant but it looks like it comes from the brand itself. There’s no external branding for Grubhub, or DoorDash, or whatever other company; instead, it appears as the entire operation, from order placing to delivery, comes from the restaurant. The best example of this is DoorDash Drive, which uses DoorDash drivers to fulfill orders placed directly with restaurants. The customer doesn’t order on the DoorDash app, but a DoorDash courier delivers the food.
Basket size: A term favored by executives on earnings calls, this means the average number of things in the order the customer is placing. It’s especially relevant right now as restaurants grapple with inflation; early signs from last quarter indicate that basket sizes are lower, but the value of those orders is remaining about the same. In such a scenario, if a third-party ordering and delivery company can convince customers to order more stuff, basket size and associated commissions rise. But, notably, even if the number of items goes down and the price remains the same, there’s less danger of falling commissions.
Fun with marketing!
One of the best parts of writing about restaurants is remembering that they can be fun! Happy! Celebratory! Deep in those vibes, there’s significant space for creative expression. I don’t not like these terms.
Average Daily Grubs: It’s been actual years, but this is the reporting metric I miss most of all. It was Grubhub’s method of quantifying the number of orders on its platforms, abbreviated DAG. More… modern methods of measuring this include the far more boring “total orders delivered” during any given reporting quarter. Boooo.
Future-proofing: As seen last week, it’s a highly technical (ha) term meant to be a hedge ahead of whatever ridiculousness comes next. It’s how companies sell new ideas that might not have reached a critical adoption stage. There was a time I thought this term was brilliant. I now find it painfully overused.