I got Covid at the National Restaurant Show
... so here's a greatest hits post.
Last week’s guest post, apart from being interesting and useful on its own merits, was meant to give me a bit of breathing room as I returned from the National Restaurant Show in Chicago with a giant to-do list. Unfortunately I’m going to need a little more of that room to breathe — stay away! — as I also managed to bring Covid home from the show with me. I’m more than halfway through isolation, depending whether or not you believe that eventually the T line on the antigen test is ever going to go away. I’m not sure I do.
In the spirit of experimentation, today’s a little different.
Creepy menus predict your order based on gender
Before I realized I was sick, I filed my first Bon Appetit story. It’s a look at some creepy technology that would allow ordering kiosks at restaurants to size you up using a camera and some artificial intelligence to make suggestions based on the way you look: your mood, your level of attention, your perceived gender.
A little AI isn’t terrible. As one friend in the business told me: “Honestly there is so much complexity on so many menus now that there is a need for, ‘tell me what to order, machine!’”
Still, demographic profiling probably isn’t it. We’ve spent years getting comfortable with the idea of machine-assisted personalization in the name of effective marketing and good service. This feels like a step too far.
What makes Expedite great? I like to think it’s hot takes like these:
What worked a few months ago for high-growth startups and other tech companies is no longer working. Instead, as Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told his staff in a recent memo, investors are looking for sure bets and responsible growth. Might this actually mean the days of subsidized growth at any cost is ending? Maybe!
For an example, look no further than speedy grocery companies, which have faced significant layoffs in recent weeks. Some have pulled out of certain markets; others have reduced staff in an effort to curb growth plans in favor or more responsible operation.
In which I argue that “ghost kitchens” as a trend are headed out. Instead, the segment is growing up, becoming a viable part of overall strategy for restaurants large and small. Case in point: DoorDash and Grubhub both recently announced initiatives to label and regulate virtual brands on its platform. No longer the scrappy industry upstarts, virtual brand growth will certainly continue.
A few weeks ago, a wayward Grubhub lunch promotion rocked New York City, overloading some restaurants and frustrating diners. Plenty of those diners, more than happy to take Grubhub’s money, later mocked the promotion on the internet. “How could Grubhub not have known?” they argued, after joining in the subsidized fun themselves.
Around the same time, DoorDash experienced an outage of its own, stranding drivers and orders for hours nationwide during the prime dinner rush on the west coast. People were furious! (I, too, got caught up in this one and shared my experience on Twitter. Newsletter authors: they’re just like us!)
This has more to do with our reliance on third-party delivery services than it does about some technology breaking, or systems stressed after bowing to extreme demand. Once again, restaurants are left holding the short straw when these services break; potentially taking the fall on behalf of the tech vendors they rely on.
(Similarly, a payment system tied to Toast failed last week, leaving some businesses unable to process payments; just this week, some Square services experienced some significant issues of its own. “We understand how important it is for all of our services to be running for your business, and our Engineering team is actively discussing how to prevent future disruptions like this one. Thank you so much for your patience as we worked through this,” its status post read.)
I’d like to say Expedite will be back to normal next week. Will I break out of my isolation? Who knows?!
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