Twitter's takeover + TikTok's uncertain future
Could whatever is happening to popular social networks right now hurt restaurants?
But first: My sincere apologies to this entire mailing list, which was spammed by Substack masquerading as Expedite yesterday. Substack has a new chat feature, officially rolling out later this week, that I was excited to try out. I did *not* know that trying this out would trigger an email to thousands of Expedite subscribers. Substack tells me it was a bug and has been fixed, but I’m still bummed it happened. Thanks for sticking with Expedite.
There’s no bigger tech story than last week’s Twitter purchase by Elon Musk, the world’s richest man with a flare for the dramatic and penchant for trolling.
A disclaimer: I find it nearly impossible to be objective about Twitter. I use it every day for work and for entertainment. It’s a part of how I report stories and promote Expedite. It was also part of the inspiration behind the early days of my first newsletter — restaurants that tweeted were a big deal in 2013!
On Tuesday’s edition of The Daily, the New York Times’ daily podcast, Times tech columnist Kevin Roose explained Twitter’s transformation over the last decade in a way that resonates. Essentially he said Twitter used to be a platform for the everyman, a way to get noticed or recognized on the basis of ideas. That’s changed, and the Musk takeover represents the close of that chapter. (Podcast host Sabrina Tavernise summed it up best: “This platform that had been for regular people is now for people who already have power; people like Elon Musk,” she said.)
It was a very different time for mass consumer adoption of new technology when I started my first restaurant technology newsletter in 2013. Those were the purer days of platforms like Twitter and Instagram — a time when people expected to be able to tweet at brands and businesses and get a real response, free from noise and abuse and advertising. These were the early days of a digital culture shift that would absolutely impact hospitality and the way restaurants and guests interact with each other.
Much of that conversation has moved off of Twitter now.
I asked Colby Kingston, a social media manager who has spent time working for several large restaurant groups, her thoughts on the future of the platform as it applies to restaurants. “I would argue that as social media has evolved over the years other platforms have become more important for independent restaurants, whose goals are more about discoverability and less about the minute to minute conversation that Twitter is so perfect for,” she said. (She is, however, worried about Twitter’s future as a medium for newsgathering and its current role as the place “where some of the best internet content is born.”)
A TikTok replacement?
In the days following his $44 billion purchase, Musk has been gleefully tweeting thoughts and ideas about Twitter’s future. One idea: to bring back Vine, the video platform that Twitter bought in 2012 and shut down a few years later. According to an Axios report, Musk instructed engineers to work on building a “Vine reboot” that could launch before the end of the year.
After Musk took the question to Twitter (natch), MrBeast, proprietor of MrBeast Burger, the wildly successful virtual-turned-real life burger restaurant, responded that if Musk pulled off the Vine reboot “and actually competed with TikTok, that would be hilarious.” (“Hilarious” is doing a lot of work here.)
TikTok has become the platform of choice for plenty of creators in the food space. Chefs and home cooks alike use it to share recipes and cooking techniques; a big report on Eater New York earlier this year announced that restaurants in the city “can’t ignore TikTok anymore.” Last week, a survey found that 53 percent of millennial TikTokers visited a restaurant after seeing it on the platform. (Worth noting that it was a survey of roughly 1,000 people.)
That could soon change, too. On Tuesday, one Federal Communications Commissioner (there are five) said that the U.S. should take action to ban TikTok, citing national security concerns. "I don’t believe there is a path forward for anything other than a ban," Brendan Carr told Axios. That’s because TikTok is owned by a Chinese parent company, and officials say it poses a growing national security threat.
"We are confident that we are on a path to reaching an agreement with the U.S. Government that will satisfy all reasonable national security concerns,” a TikTok representative said. The company is maybe moving toward a deal with the U.S. that would address security concerns, but nothing is yet set in stone.
A TikTok ban would leave a huge hole in Americans’ social media usage — it’s been downloaded more than 200 million times in this country. Ergo, a TikTok competitor might have some leverage. A recent Bloomberg op-ed asked if TikTok might have the power to disrupt longstanding restaurant-related institutions like the Michelin Guide. (Spoiler alert: at least one former restaurant exec says no, but consider the restaurant he once worked for sits on top of nearly every list in existence.)
Whether Twitter might step up to fill any sort of void left by TikTok — if it in fact goes away — remains to be seen. But at the very least it would open the door to disrupting the status quo, something Elon Musk undoubtedly enjoys.
(Wow, I can’t believe I pasted an Elon tweet in this newsletter. So it goes. Hi, new era. Sigh.)
Coming later this week:
The next installment of Expedite’s Women in Restaurant Tech series — for paying subscribers only.
What else is happening?
Grubhub founder Mike Evans detailed the company’s origin story in his new book, out this week. Gizmodo has an excerpt. I’m sure there are interesting things within, including the fact that he admits that the company that made him “a metric shit ton of cash” then “went way off the rails and became brutally exploitative.” Hindsight?
Oh look, more coverage of QR code menus, or should I say, “the restaurant industry’s worst idea.”
Fiserv, parent company of point of sale system Clover and restaurant website service BentoBox, acquired Nextable, a reservations and table management platform. The new tech — reservations, SMS support, digital waitlists, Reserve with Google connectivity — will be integrated into both Clover and BentoBox.
Franklin Junction, a company that facilitates restaurant brand expansion via “host kitchens,” expanded its Hooters partnership. This does not mean that Hooters is a virtual brand now (would that even work?) — instead, it’s launching its own virtual concepts, including a just-announced chicken fingers brand in partnership with NASCAR driver Chase Elliott.
Momofuku, the restaurant group from chef David Chang, partnered with a California grocery company for meal kit delivery. Good Eggs customers in California can now order meal kits from “Momofuku at Home,” including the brand’s popular bo ssäm pulled pork and spicy shrimp noodles with mizuna.
Former Focus Brands' president Kat Cole joined Nextbite as advisor. Cole joins founder and CEO Alex Canter and Nextbite co-president and notable Red Robin veteran Denny Marie Post to advise on the virtual brand company’s growth.
Point of sale / restaurant management platform TouchBistro raised $110 million for its growth. The Canadian company says it’ll use the cash to expand its product and make some strategic acquisitions.