Restaurant technology product works exactly the way it’s supposed to. (Surprise?)
Plus: a peek at a new automated drive-thru
The headline: New York diners turn to Reddit to offload expensive restaurant bookings during omicron. The subtext: We are trapped in a terrible omicron wave, aid to restaurants is basically dried up, and a ticketing system that’s been used successfully at high end restaurants for years is… working?
Maybe Eater New York found humor in the fact that someone would pay $1,500 to eat at Eleven Madison Park and then try to offload the reservation when they couldn’t travel. (Eater’s restaurant critic seemed to.) And while, yes, it’s an extravagant amount to pay for what I assume was meant to be an equally extravagant New Year’s Eve party, it literally proves that this ticketing model is working exactly the way it’s supposed to.
Tickets at restaurants work the same way tickets to events work: you pay a fee up front for a set date and time, you hold the tickets, and then you either use them or you sell them to someone else. It’s meant to add some level of predictability and diner accountability to a formerly very one-sided business deal where the guest held all the power.
Since its inception, Tock and its co-founder / CEO Nick Kokonas have been vocal about the benefits of ticketing for certain types of restaurants. And, surprise! They’re the types of restaurants that regularly fill dining rooms with guests willing to pay up for an expensive meal; one that’s likely worth booking weeks or even months in advance. If a diner can’t make their reservation, the onus is on them to find someone who can, by selling and transferring the ticket. And if they don’t manage to sell it, the restaurant isn’t out the money. Diner responsibility is not a bad thing.
I doubt Tock’s founders envisioned the complexities associated with a global pandemic as they built their business, but here we are. (I also bet its founders didn’t think an online ordering and takeout option — takeout! — would make the company so valuable and attractive to its eventual acquirer, either. Strange times!)
As the piece notes, some restaurants have changed cancellation policies because of this absolutely insane omicron wave. And that’s great! But we’ll soon hit the two-year anniversary of the shutdowns that rocked the restaurant industry, and we’re obviously far from the end of the damage. The posts on Reddit, while maybe good for a little chuckle I guess? …just mean that the tech and the policies work and that diners are respecting them, even in an emergency.
It works, exactly as promised. Isn’t that a good thing?
A peek at our future: Robots in the drive-thru
If you love talking to robotic customer service agents you’ll really love the new drive-thru experience at Checkers. The fast food brand partnered with a company called Presto to automate the drive-up-and-order process. That is: a robot voice takes your order from your car. (And it's an authentic experience! After a brief welcome, drive thru guests are told, “This drive thru microphone is monitored and recorded for quality assurance.”)
While the bot does the heavy lifting, a human listens in to all of the interactions. According to Frances Allen, Checkers & Rally’s president and CEO, the human has to step in and take over just 2 percent of the time. If a customer gets frustrated — or even turned off — by the robotic voice, they’ll be able to talk to a person, Rajat Suri, Presto founder and CEO, told me during a press conference this week.
The tech seems to work, as evidenced by a recording of a live drive-thru interaction. Both companies’ leaders were adamant that the tech has undergone rigorous tests and is, in fact, a hit with consumers.
Behold (by clicking the image for video):
During the press conference, leaders of both companies shied away from describing the new technology as a way to replace human labor. Instead, Allen said, it’s an opportunity for upselling as a way to drive revenue. It’s also a way to reduce errors since voice orders go directly into the point of sale system.
Expect the bots to take over all corporate-owned Checkers and Rally’s locations this year. (As of a couple years ago, just 30 percent of locations were corporate-owned; the rest were franchised, but Allen said store owners were shown the new tech and it would be available to them, too.)
What else is happening?
Berlin-based Delivery Hero recently announced its food delivery business would break even in the second half of 2022. It was an announcement that carried some fanfare; Delivery Hero CEO Niklas Östberg was noticeably proud to discuss the development on Bloomberg TV Tuesday. The news comes on the heels of Delivery Hero’s investment / acquisition of Glovo announced on the last day of 2021. Together, the companies serve 50 countries with no overlap — that is, after the eventual acquisition, it won’t compete with itself. Delivery Hero also plays in the “quick commerce” space, but it will be some time, per Östberg, for that part of the business to reach profitable or even break-even status. The company is also eyeing advertising and buy-now-pay-later functionality to aid its growth.
Kitchen United opened a location inside a Los Angeles grocery store. The location, inside a Ralph’s, serves meals from 10 different restaurants for pickup and delivery.
Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments has raised a second fund. The group announced a $332 million raise to continue to invest in hospitality (and hospitality-adjacent) businesses. It’ll continue to invest in the $10-30 million range. EHI’s previous investments include Resy, Goldbelly, and Clear.
You can order Girl Scout cookies on DoorDash. People in participating markets can order cookies on demand for home delivery or pickup at local booths. (This former troop cookie champion is jealous of the possibilities here!)
Reef is reportedly closing a third of its kitchen vessels. Per Insider, the company will close a third of its ghost kitchens temporarily. One Reef employee told Insider that the company is closing any location not making $500 per day. A Reef spokesperson told Insider that the closures were intentional and also temporary, but did not indicate when they would reopen.
Meanwhile, Reef continues to sign deals that bolster its growth. Denny’s recently became the next chain to sign on with Reef in order to expand its presence in the sort of urban areas that Reef operates in. Reef also announced a deal in the Middle East allowing it to expand in the region.
DoorDash CEO Tony Xu has joined the Meta (formerly Facebook) board of directors. Xu said in a tweet that he’s excited to “help Mark and team grow into its next chapter while the company continues to develop new tools to help millions of local merchants build and grow their businesses.” Journalist Eric Newcomer’s take was different: “if you want to optimize for staying CEO and running your company as you see fit, picking a founder CEO is a smart move,” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
A federal judge in New York combined several third-party delivery lawsuits against the city into one. DoorDash brought a suit against the city’s recent law requiring delivery apps to share customer data with restaurants. Later, Uber Eats and Grubhub filed similar suits. Last week, a judge combined the lawsuits since they target the same ordinance and make overlapping claims.
Taco Bell’s subscription pass reigns supreme. After a successful trial run in Arizona, the chain’s Taco Lover Pass is available nationally. For $10/ month, users are entitled to a taco each day (soft, crunchy, Dorito Locos, potato) If one uses their subscription every day, as Eater notes, that’s roughly 30 cents per taco — not a bad offer at all.
- Danielle Hyams
TGI Fridays is the latest chain to go off-premise. Scaled back ‘Fridays on the Fly’ will be primarily focused on delivery and takeout orders. The first store is under construction (location TBD), and each store is predicted to generate $2 million average unit volumes.