A few sort-of answers to some pressing restaurant technology questions
I, like you, have a lot of questions. They include: When can I leave my house? Will this ever end?
We’ve seen plenty of changes and innovations in restaurant technology this year. What was once thought to be temporary now feels permanent, what was once far fetched is now table stakes. I still have more questions than answers! To soothe some of the open-endedness 2021, here are some questions I can answer, at least for now.
photo courtesy of DoorDash
Do third-party delivery services really help local restaurants?
This is the most common question I get asked, hands down. As part of a now-weekly Clubhouse chat on Monday morning, someone (I can’t remember who, sorry!) used the term “local-washing” to describe a pair of Super Bowl ad campaigns run by Uber Eats and DoorDash. Essentially, these gigantic national platforms are marketing themselves as a way to help the business down the street from your house. There are plenty of media reports to the contrary; we all know restaurant owners’ gripes with these services. But for everyone who dislikes them, there are plenty of businesses for whom services like these are helpful.
The answer to this question is, “it’s complicated.” It depends on the individual restaurant’s economics and all sorts of other things, including how well its food travels. These companies also make big deals of their commitments to help small businesses; DoorDash announced a $200 million initiative called “Main Street Strong.” Uber just announced a $20 million commitment to help local restaurants over the next six months in the form of waived fees, donations, grants, and more.
I know these services do help independent businesses. I am not a proponent of “delete your apps,” but I do advocate for more education and understanding about how these services work. At the end of the day, apps can drive incremental business to local restaurants. Whether the economics of that incremental business work comes down to the individual restaurant.
What’s more interesting, I think, is that third-party delivery services are ushering in new ways of doing business. A piece on Marker just this morning called ghost kitchens and virtual brands, “the defining dining trend of the past few years.” Restaurants are reinventing their business to work within the bounds of third-party delivery services. I’m just not sure if I call that innovation or forced change.
What does DoorDash want with a salad robot?
Really great question. Earlier this week, the company announced it had acquired Chowbotics, a company known for its creation of Sally the salad robot. Sally looked (and functioned, honestly) more like a salad vending machine, dispensing ingredients and mixing salads. Customers could order ahead via app, too, and it had at least one restaurant partnership on the books at the time of the acquisition. (I have to say, I was never particularly excited about this one, but robotics is a toughie for me.) Also, Sally has a LinkedIn profile.
I’ve been part of a few but what does it mean? conversations, and think there’s a few ways this can go. In its official blog post about the acquisition, DoorDash said, “What excites us most about Chowbotics is the team has developed a remarkable tool that will allow DoorDash merchants to grow. As part of the DoorDash platform, this tool can help merchants expand their current menu offerings as well as reach new customers in new markets without investing in an entirely new store.”
I think, fundamentally, this shows how DoorDash is working to expand its offering to partnered restaurants, giving them a competitive advantage in a challenging market. Just how competitive that advantage becomes depends on the future of online ordering and delivery. Also, I’m curious whether or not diners will care that their food was made by a robot. Would that change the way you feel about your salad?
Where did Grubhub go?
It’s still around, though it did seem conspicuously absent from the Super Bowl, didn’t it? In June, Grubhub announced it would be acquired by Just Eat Takeaway, expecting the deal to close in the first half of this year. According to a release from the company, that timeline hasn’t changed.