To Trust or Not to Trust?

Open or closed, safe or not, delivery or dine-in, who even knows?

Hi, and welcome to Thursday. Late Expedite this week because of the holiday but also because of the distracting orange day we had yesterday in San Francisco. Please stay safe out there. 

There’s no shortage of tech solutions meant to make our dining lives easier during a pandemic. This is good! But they don’t always work as intended. This is less good. Over years of covering restaurant technology, I’ve received thousands of press releases detailing new product features and ideas and functionality aimed at making restaurateurs’ lives easier. (I’ve probably received three as I wrote this email, and no, I’m not saying I want fewer, I’m just saying there’s a lot of them.)

Generally, these new products and features are good ideas! They help solve valid problems for a restaurant or a customer; they make it easier or cheaper or at least more efficient to get food from A to B, whether A is a kitchen and B is a socially distanced dining room outfitted with QR codes or when A is a commissary kitchen and B is my front door. But for operators they just become one more thing to manage, and it’s tricky to know which platform to trust during a time when the situation is changing quickly but trust and safety are paramount.

Last week in San Francisco, there was some panic as one local news outlet reported Tommy’s Joynt, a beloved 73-year-old restaurant on Van Ness, was listed as closed for good on Google. Not so, Tommy’s Joynt owners quickly corrected. The Google Maps listing has since been changed to reflect the restaurant’s temporary closure.

Online platforms like Google and Yelp are asking restaurants to purposefully update listings, understandable given how quickly things are changing. But the Tommy’s Joynt debacle is just one example of how one small bit of misinfo can travel. Could listing the restaurant as closed have hurt future business? Probably not, but what happens when a tech platform wrongly lists a business’s hours or their opening status? How many digital platforms are reasonable to expect restaurant owners and managers to manage right now?

In my former home state of Pennsylvania, the governor announced that restaurants across the state may increase their indoor capacity to 50 percent, but only if they go through an online certification process. Once it self-certifies, promising to adhere to associated rules and regulations, it appears in a searchable public database. So does the fact that a governing body, not an internet company, is running this certification process make it a more trustworthy resource? I guess? 

It’s also possible I’m needlessly skeptical of these features. But I feel like anything that requires mass adoption or participation to work properly right now is a true challenge, all around.

Sweetgreen’s New Digital Menu

I read a piece in the Sunday New York Times this week about what the pandemic, and more importantly, social distancing and bans on large gatherings, have done for performers. Those used to a live audience have found themselves monologuing to the camera instead; gone is the rush of a full auditorium or theater. Can the same be said for chefs — especially of the celebrity variety — and restaurants? 

If you’re looking for the restaurant-chef equivalent to Samantha Bee’s backyard monologues, a new Sweetgreen collaboration comes pretty close. The salad chain introduced “collections” this week, online-only menu items that a company spokesperson calls “thoroughly curated.” Thoughtful curations include lists of seasonal dishes, diet-specific suggestions, and, of course, an “Eat Like a Chef” category. Well-known chefs like Michael Solomonov, Nancy Silverton, Mei Lin, Missy Robbins, and others contributed to the new menu. There’s also, of course, a video

What else is happening? 

  • Salido, a point of sale and restaurant management system, was acquired by North American Bancard (NAB), a large electronic payment processor, earlier this year. Salido CEO Shu Chowdhury will become strategic advisor to NAB’s CEO, while most of the Salido team has stayed on through the transition. Additional terms were not disclosed. 

  • Virtual Kitchen, which provides technology for setting up delivery-only kitchens, has raised $20 million in funding. The company was started by two ex-Uber employees and is not to be confused with CloudKitchens, the actual virtual kitchen startup led by former Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick. I find it… interesting that so many people with Uber association are breaking off to start companies that essentially piggyback off of food delivery. Delivery (née Eats) is pulling Uber through a pandemic and its devastating year-over-year ridesharing numbers, making the service indispensable to the $63 billion company. Just me?

  • Speaking of Uber Eats, during a recent presentation, Nelson Chai, Uber’s CFO, said that the company’s Eats Pass subscription service has about a million subscribers and still growing. The pass gives monthly subscribers discounts on delivery fees, therefore encouraging platform loyalty in an increasingly competitive space. 

  • Elsewhere, Zomato, an Indian food delivery startup, raised $62 million from Temasek.

    More next week, hopefully from under a blue sky with breathable air. Take care.


    Expedite is produced by Kristen Hawley, a San Francisco-based journalist with over six years of experience covering the restaurant technology industry. Previous iterations of this content were available via Chefs+Tech and Skift Table. Thanks for reading!