Fiserv acquires BentoBox

The acquisition underscores what's valuable in restaurant tech right now.

BentoBox, the restaurant website builder, announced it will be acquired by Fiserv, a payments company that’s also parent to the Clover point of sale system. It’s the latest acquisition meant to bolster a company’s complete set of tech offerings to restaurants — the same do-it-all ethos that’s driven Toast’s recent success. 

BentoBox started as a company for restaurant website design, but evolved to be the “digital front door” for restaurants. (Their words, not mine.) Krystle Mobayeni, the company’s co-founder and CEO, is a designer. Nearly a decade and some reported $52 million in investment (per Crunchbase) later, BentoBox expanded to offer gift cards, support for catering, merchandise, and online orders for takeout and delivery. 

As someone who looks at *a lot* of restaurant websites, those designed on BentoBox do have a certain vibe — they feel modern and fresh and bright, devoid of the PDF menus that still, somehow, pop up from time to time. Building more functionality into well-designed websites was both a smart decision and low-hanging fruit; the pandemic-era push to build out a restaurant’s digital real estate certainly only created a tailwind for the company. 

In a lot of ways, this type of deal is indicative of the promise of the future of restaurant technology, versus, say, third-party marketplaces. BentoBox is valuable to Fiserv because BentoBox represents a direct way for restaurants to engage their customers on the internet, on the restaurant’s terms.

(That’s also what a company like DoorDash seems to want to do — become the virtual front door of businesses on the internet. Remember, DoorDash literally named its direct ordering product “storefront.”)

BentoBox comes with a customer roster of 7,500 brands across 14,000 restaurant locations, per a press release. Restaurants pay a monthly fee, netting the company attractive recurring revenue. 

In a statement, Fiserv’s CEO summed up the companies’ combined functionality: “The addition of BentoBox’s premier website capabilities to the business management solutions of Fiserv will strengthen our omnichannel platform, providing restaurants of all sizes and types with an integrated offering that delivers a customizable consumer experience.”

That is: restaurants can do more on their own online on their own terms. The pandemic made it very clear that this sort of tech for a restaurant is table stakes. It also made this acquisition a big win for BentoBox. (Though terms of this week’s deal were not disclosed.)

The economy, according to Yelp

Yelp’s latest economic average report, a quarterly measurement of small business health in the U.S. via Yelp’s platform, suggests that business is rebounding from the early and damaging hits in early to mid 2020. According to Yelp’s data, 83 percent of restaurants that temporarily closed since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 have reopened. 

The numbers related to the so-called great reopening of American business probably aren’t telling the full story. Yelp’s own blog post containing some just-released data explains that plenty of restaurants needed to reinvent themselves with new front-of-house technology (conveniently Yelp sells that!) and evolving business models. 

The news does sound rosy, but it’s in contrast with plenty of the other numbers and stories that have come out of the restaurant industry during Covid. According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition 90,000 bars and restaurants in America closed due to the pandemic. New data from the National Restaurant Association shows the delta variant has slowed indoor dining at 78 percent of restaurants in recent weeks. 

Still, Yelp says 19,892 new restaurant and food businesses opened in the third quarter of this year — that’s July, August, and September. It represents just a 2 percent increase year over year.  And, somewhat incredulously, this number includes 54 buffets.

(This is not to say that all of this data is at odds — it’s obviously possible that two, or three, or ten things can be true at once. It’s just that I don’t believe a chronicle of business openings and re-openings as counted by a third party website is the best way to gauge the health of the restaurant business overall.)

What else is happening? 

Resy plans to pull its Android app. In an email to users, Resy confirmed it plans to pull its Android app from the Google Play store. “On October 26, 2021 we are removing the Resy Android App from the Google Play store and discontinuing updates to the Android app indefinitely. We’ve heard your feedback, and will take this time to improve our Android app experience.” 

A rep for Resy confirmed that the company intends to reintroduce its Android app, but did not offer a timeline. (In the interim, the company recommends Android users try mobile web or Resy’s desktop site.)

Resy’s Android app has a solid (and I mean solid) one-star rating in the Google Play store.

“I’m surprised this is a finished app,” wrote one reviewer. “Poorly executed but take it away completely and it makes it even more inconvenient,” wrote another.

DoorDash and Uber Eats are still eating Grubhub’s lunch. That’s according to recent coverage in the Wall Street Journal, which says that Grubhub is likely still losing ground in the U.S. The report cites recent figures from Grubhub’s new parent company, Europe-based Just Eat Takeaway. “One conclusion is that Grubhub’s trends signal an industry-wide slowdown for food delivery in the U.S. More likely, Grubhub’s pain is its competitors’ gain,” the article reads. DoorDash and Uber are set to release their own third-quarter earnings in early November.

Delivery Hero backs Gorillas. The rumors from a few weeks ago are true: European delivery giant Delivery Hero lead ultrafast grocery startup Gorillas’ latest $1 billion fundraising round, contributing $235 million to the company’s now $3.1 billion valuation. Per CNBC, “Delivery Hero is on a mission to advance quick commerce globally and we see Gorillas as one of the leaders in Europe and the U.S.,” Niklas Östberg, Delivery Hero’s CEO and founder, said in a statement.

Instacart buys Caper AI. The grocery delivery service this week announced its acquisition of Caper AI, a startup focused on cashierless checkout tech, for about $350 million. The purchase is part of Instacart’s strategy to have a larger presence in physical grocery stores by expanding products and services that the stores can then provide to their customers. “We are … unlocking for retail partners [what] we think is what’s next,” Instacart CEO Fidji Simo told TechCrunch. “We are meeting the evolving needs of customers online or offline.”

Social media lets chefs sidestep tradition. Instagram has long played an important role in the world of dining, but as of late — particularly during the pandemic — it has provided both a lifeline and creative outlet to industry professionals, spawning micro-bakeries, mutual aid projects and hugely successful pop-up restaurants. Organizers are able to do things on their own terms — no middlemen, no websites, and none of the hierarchies, sexism and racism known to plague the industry, plus a much lower barrier to entry. 

Beyond Meat gets the Big Mac treatment. McDonald’s is set to start selling Beyond Meat burgers in select locations next month, with plans to eventually expand its McPlant options to include chicken, pork and eggs. This follows a deal between parent company Yum Brands and Beyond Meat. Competitor Impossible Foods has partnered with Burger King, Starbucks and White Castle. 

Snapchat x Shake Shack. Messaging app Snapchat is taking over a Shake Shack location in Manhattan's Hudson Yards this week. The Snap Shack event, which aligns with Advertising Week, will feature an augmented reality store, free food and custom Snapchat lenses.

The robots are coming. The New York Times has a story about automation in restaurants, yet again in the form of robots with names like Flippy and Servi. The hook this time? Human workers are hard to find, so bring on the bots. (Oh, except they break sometimes.)

Point: technology. Anna Tauzin, a former exec at the Texas Restaurant Association and, before that, head of innovation at the National Restaurant Association, has joined ChowNow as director of industry relations and community affairs. 

(psst! I’m happy to include relevant staff moves any time, please send yours my way!)