Uber Eats hits a record, goes social, and maybe also delivers pot?

From the info Uber released, it could be well on its way to 2021 profitability.

On Monday, an Uber filing noted, among other things, that its delivery business set a record, crossing a $52 billion annualized gross bookings run-rate in March. Run rates are great metrics for investor analysis because they show trajectory and potential. But basically: if Uber’s delivery business (that’s Eats but also grocery) continues at its March pace, it’ll reach $1 billion in gross bookings (that’s the total amount of money consumers pay, including food, fees, tax, etc. and is not adjusted for drivers’ earnings or other company expenses). 

Former Uber Eats lead Jason Droege shared the stat on Twitter Monday; former Uber chief business officer Emil Michael who left the company in 2017 after a former U.S. Attorney General completed an investigation of complaints of toxic culture at the company, seemed to somehow challenge Droege’s position on the news. It was a strange exchange that made me uncomfortable just reading it. (You’ll maybe remember Michael was the same company exec who suggested digging up dirt on journalists who wrote critical coverage of Uber.) 

The same day, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CNBC the company would consider delivering cannabis once federal regulation allows it. Pot’s been on Uber’s mind for a whole; Bloomberg reported that the company worked (with outside help) to target pot users for Uber Eats advertising campaigns with significant success. (The headline of the piece says “weed customers are everyone’s dream demographic,” so.)

Then, on Tuesday, a few quick product announcements from Uber. And… if you thought there was no possible way that any other apps could insert “stories” functionality into their systems, you’d be wrong. Uber Eats unveiled the new functionality this week for partner restaurants, allowing a business to post stories (that look a whole lot like Instagram stories) to their business pages. “Owner-operators can upload images and add text to tell their customers about special deals, menu changes, new services, or seasonal promotions,” said the company in a blog post. 

Uber says that in early testing, 13 percent of users who clicked on a restaurant’s story ended up completing an order in that same session. It’s a way for consumers on Uber Eats to “benefit from… closer, more meaningful relationships with the local restaurants they love.” 

Additionally, Uber Eats announced new functionality that lets restaurants connect their Instagram feeds to their Eats profile pages. “We know from research that consumers regularly look to Instagram to validate their order decisions, and we are excited to see how this integration boosts sales for merchants,” Uber wrote in the post. Of course, it’s also a way to keep consumers inside Uber Eats, rather than directing them to other channels that come directly from the restaurant. 

Punchh to Par for $500 million

Last week, Par Technologies, parent of point of sale system Brink, acquired loyalty provider Punchh for about $500 million in stock and cash — including a $160 million investment from Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich. According to its new parent, Punchh works with about a third of the top 100 restaurant chains in the country. It should be quickly integrated into Par’s technology — Par president and CEO Savneet Singh said on a call with investors about the deal that he sees no barriers to a fast technical integration, especially since the two companies have partnered for some time. 

Singh said that at the end of last year, Brink was in 12,000 stores, and between 30 and 40 percent were already Punchh customers. Interestingly, he said that Punchh was being used by many restaurant brands not using Brink. “I think there’s a strong opportunity for us to use them as a wedge into some of these chains,” he said on the call — classic post-acquisition strategy. 

In a statement, Shaich, who also earned a Par board observer seat in the deal, said, “As a founder and long-time CEO of a large restaurant company, I understand first-hand the struggles of trying to power a large enterprise by gluing together disparate technologies from multiple vendors which results in silos of data, increased management costs and barriers to agile innovation.” Later Monday, Restaurant Business reported that Panera had quietly ended its self-delivery program, instead relying on third-party partners

If you need continued proof that a robust and tech-savvy loyalty strategy is important for growth, here’s half a billion dollars’ worth!

Loyalty programs, specifically personalized loyalty programs, are huge for restaurants. Every company in the space (there are many) has plenty of data to share that backs up how valuable a targeted message can be. It’s something that the biggest chains (think: Starbucks) do especially well thanks to large amounts of money and dedicated teams who spend their days on these efforts. Translating that success to a smaller business is trickier — but Adam Brotman, CEO of Brightloom, thinks he can help. 

Brightloom is a tech company that uses AI to personalize a business’s marketing efforts. 

Previously Brotman spent nearly a decade in various senior leadership roles at Starbucks, most notably as the coffee giant’s chief digital officer. Brightloom secured backing from Starbucks in 2019 when the company licensed Brightloom parts of its proprietary marketing software in return for what a recent Insider piece called “an undisclosed equity stake.”

In February, Brightloom announced another $15 million round of funding and officially launched out of stealth mode (whew, finally) to, in part, give smaller businesses the kind of technology that huge companies like Starbucks can develop and deploy. “Brightloom saw an opportunity to democratize the most elusive part of the Starbucks digital flywheel: How to leverage data-driven predictive-personalization to drive high-impact marketing programs,” said Brotman. There are plenty of these companies on the market, he says, but all are geared toward larger brands. Brightloom’s Customer Growth Platform (he refers to this as CGP) is built “to tell brands what to do next, so they don’t have to hire teams to build models, guess at rules, run experiments, and then interpret the results.”

I asked a few more questions, but this email is getting long, so you can check those out here: 

A quick Q&A with Brightloom CEO Adam Brotman

What else is happening? 

Singapore’s Grab is poised to debut on the U.S. stock market via SPAC. The ride-hailing and food delivery company will merge with a special purpose acquisition company from Altimeter Capital Management for a valuation of $39.6 billion. According to Fortune, it’s the “largest-ever deal of its kind.” 

DoorDash says fee caps are hurting business (again). This time, in a blog post, DoorDash says that order volume is decreasing in markets that have instituted caps and DoorDash has started charging consumers an additional fee. 

That is: when prices go up, order volume goes down. In Philadelphia, the company says, merchants saw an almost 7 percent decrease in order volume in March, translating to nearly $450,000 not going to DoorDash’s couriers. I’ve written plenty about fee caps (New York is the latest city that seems to be considering a permanent cap). As a reminder: DoorDash pegged its fourth quarter revenue loss due to fee caps and California’s Proposition 22 at $36 million. If you’re curious how DoorDash will respond to future attempts to cap commissions in certain markets, just read that blog post again. 

DoorDash is considering its own credit card. The Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan is bidding for the business, which would create a DoorDash-branded card that would likely spur even more loyalty business for the delivery giant, but also, according to the piece, create more diversified interests for the card-issuing bank after a year that saw travel-related cards become near irrelevant. (I wrote a piece for Eater last spring about how some travel cards are adapting, and, spoiler alert, most of them were adding grocery and food delivery rewards as a way to offer perks to existing customers so they wouldn’t bail.)

OpenTable’s opening a restaurant. Well, kind of. A few weeks ago I mentioned that Kayak would open its own hotel in Miami to use, test, hone its own booking software. I guessed that OpenTable wouldn’t be far behind and, it’s true! Layla, a restaurant within the Kayak hotel operates in partnership with OpenTable and will be a testing ground of sorts for the company’s restaurant software. 

Domino’s is testing autonomous delivery service in Texas with Nuro. The cars are kinda cute. Nuro, you’ll recall, just shared that Chipotle participated in its November round of funding. Nuro is also backed, in a big way, of course, by Softbank, which led the company’s $940 million Series B.