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Editor’s Note: Last month we announced that Skift was expanding into food and drink with the addition of the Chefs+Tech weekly newsletter.
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Front of House
Union Square Cafe, Resy, and Some Apple Watches
At least week’s TechTable Summit, Union Square Hospitality, led by the effervescent Danny Meyer, and reservations service Resy made a big joint announcement: when the famed Union Square Cafe reopens later this month, all managers and sommeliers will wear Apple Watches during service. Watches will be connected to a new system, called ResyOS, the newest Resy product.
This is a Big Deal. (Perhaps some of the biggest in restaurant technology in the C+T era, honestly.) First: a massive new software announcement from Resy. ResyOS “ is a complete restaurant reservations and waitlist system” offering “table management, ticketing, web booking, CRM, mobile app, POS integration and more.” At its core, the product looks to be an excellent way to manage VIPs — loyal guests for whom a restaurant keeps notes and maintains relationships. The Apple Watches are connected to the main ResyOS system, so, as the Eater piece notes, floor managers can be alerted when certain guests arrive, sommeliers can be alerted when someone orders a bottle of wine, and everyone can stay on top of service and wait times at all times.
Second, the use of the Apple Watch adds an interesting layer to day-to-day hospitality practices. Guest notes within reservations are nothing new, but employing a dynamic, real-time system to make sure that the people who need to read the notes actually do read the notes is a major step. The Apple Watch, for its… shortcomings, is arguably less intrusive than a mobile phone or larger screen, and can be checked far more discreetly. I can’t speak for restaurant floor managers, but from this side of the keyboard, this seems like an efficient technological upgrade.
Another interesting tidbit buried in the Eater piece: soon, ResyOS will support the ability to add other diners to a reservation so the restaurant has a clearer picture of everyone at the table — great news for couples who keep track of which reservation profiles have all of the “good notes.” (We all do that, right?)
This is such a fantastic example of how technology can augment the fundamentally human experience of hospitality. All of this new tech seems to be created with great respect to the art of hospitality, existing not to “disrupt” anything, but to enhance the already professional experience. This is surely a partnership to follow as it’s launched and grows; can’t wait to see.
Blue Apron Labor Practices Under Scrutiny
As meal kit giant Blue Apron heads toward an IPO (with a projected $1 billion in upcoming revenue), Buzzfeed released a sobering story about its inner workings that speaks to the difficulty of scaling a food business. The piece leads with some particularly jarring examples (former employees threatening a targeted shooting; extremely unsafe work conditions), which open the door for other examples of the difficulties of scaling a physical goods business.
Food is, as it should be, a highly regulated industry. There are standards for preparing, packaging, handling, and shipping food. Blue Apron, thanks in part to its own nationwide marketing efforts, has grown in leaps and bounds — almost too fast for its own good, it seems. Put these two things together, and someone with even the most basic understanding of economics can see the potential for problems. Like so many other aspects of the food service industry, convenience for the consumer means added cost for the provider. In this case: Blue Apron’s growth meant the company needed to hire a lot of people at near minimum wage to help package its food in individual portions. And when you’re in the business of people, things can get a bit tougher.
All this to highlight a large, not-exciting trend: we don’t value food and our food system as much as we should. Granted, this example is not exactly a restaurant problem. But it does highlight some of the (very important) issues we face in the US around food, food workers, food production, delivery, presumed cost, actual cost, and value. This discussion bleeds directly into the wages discussion in restaurants, particularly for dishwashers and other back-of-house staff. It makes a statement about how we treat our food service workers, from those packaging pre-cut bunches of cilantro to those who cook the food we enjoy at a restaurant. This piece (and likely, more like it, sadly) are the first steps to raising awareness and highlighting the discussion around how to improve — so, kudos to technology for opening the door.
Highlights from Eater’s Delivery Week
Last week was Delivery Week on Eater, featuring some great content centered around what has become one of the biggest industries in food, fueled by smartphones and the accessibility of technology. Below, a selection of some of the particularly C+T-relevant reporting:
- How much to tip your delivery person (spoiler: minimum acceptable tip is $5, no matter what.)
- Or, actually, a counterpoint: Just don’t order delivery.
- Fascinating input on the emerging boom of virtual, delivery-only businesses: When restaurants ditch the dining room
- And, finally, a topic near and dear to C+T: Why Dominos online delivery is the best delivery startup in America. (Seriously, the pizza delivery industry is always, always at the forefront of digital innovation and adoption. I love it.)
The Problem with Generalized Ratings and “Best Of”s
As I’ve said before, generalized lists of “best restaurants in the world” or even “best restaurants in your city” are really, really challenging to qualify. Of course, this doesn’t stop every online (and offline) publication and company from creating a list, but I’ll do my part to remind you that it’s especially challenging to find common ground by which to judge and rank restaurants that are otherwise completely different. Add some digitally-collected data on top of this, and the challenge becomes more pronounced. Then, what you end up with, is something like Business Insider’s “Best Restaurant Tasting Menus in America.”
Nope. Actually, this is a list of the highest-rated restaurants on Foursquare that offer tasting menus. Which, in its own right, is an interesting and valuable list, but is not the same as ranking a tasting menu. For starters: what are users rating? The menu composition? The food? The price? The value? The overall experience (which could literally be that someone had a really hot date at the spot.) This is a nit-picky rant, but hear me out: pulling some data, turning it into a slideshow, and crafting a clever, SEO-friendly title does not a “list of best tasting menus” make. (Though… I clicked on the piece and now I’m still talking about it so… )
- This is hilarious. The economics of dining out as a couple (I’m “individual property rights, with option trading.”) — Bloomberg
- Feed hungry people by deleting your Instagram food photos (seriously.) Here’s how. — Food & Wine
- A roundup of food-tech funding and partnerships from summer 2016 — FoodTech Connect
- “Ugly” fruit and vegetables are coming to the emoji keyboard to raise awareness of food waste — ThinkProgress
- Oh, good. More on the “right to Yelp” laws that might be coming — SF Chronicle