Editor’s Note: Last month we announced that Skift was expanding into food and drink with the addition of the Chefs+Tech weekly newsletter.
We see this as a natural expansion of the Skift umbrella, bringing the big picture view on the future of dining out, being fanatically focused on the guest experience, and at the intersection of marketing and tech.
You can find the archives here, read the latest issue below, and subscribe here:
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New! Order Food from a Restaurant’s Facebook Page
In the age of Yelp, restaurant Facebook pages are an often underlooked source of information, photos, menus, and soon, orders. Through a partnership with Delivery.com, Facebook will offer the ability for any restaurant to accept orders directly through its Facebook page (and businesses already signed up as Delivery.com customers will automatically see delivery ordering information added to its page.)
Consumers obviously have no shortage of options when online ordering is considered — digital ordering + delivery is the hot topic in the restaurant-tech space. But the thing that Facebook has is built-in user engagement; feedback, reviews, the ability to connect directly with customers for chains and one-off restaurants alike. Connecting a real revenue driver to an otherwise promotional page is a good way for Facebook to prove its value beyond the “squishy” world of marketing and PR. It’s sometimes hard to justify time and effort put into the care and feeding of a Facebook (or other social media) page when you can’t prove that effort has any real return on investment. While this model isn’t something all restaurants can take advantage of, it’s a true service to those who do offer delivery and online ordering and a real opportunity to both connect with fans and turn them into paying customers.
Evolution of OpenTable’s Dining Points
OpenTable has been around for almost two decades (seriously!), and certainly has the distinction of being one of the most recognized (if not the most recognized) brands in restaurant tech. Dining reward points are one of those product features that have been around for a while, presumably popular with some diners, but sort of confusing for everyone else. They’re like loyalty points for using the service, and eventually you redeem them for free food, but the process was clunky. (You got a paper check that you presented the restaurant that didn’t always know what to do with it.) Last year, OpenTable started allowing diners to redeem points for Amazon gift cards instead of just money toward restaurant meals. Now, a new program that’s currently available in Boston lets diners use points for something that makes even more sense: coveted reservations.
Called Premium Access, the program capitalizes on the fact that the dining public seems not to be adverse to paying for a dinner reservation, as evidenced by apps and services that sell reservations for a small fee in partnership with restaurants. The difference here: the OpenTable program enforces brand loyalty, essentially rewarding point-collecting consumers with the ability to get into (presumably) hard-to-reserve restaurants.
This is a smart move for OpenTable, and real evidence of the value consumers place on the right reservation — so much so that they’re willing to pay either actual dollars or loyalty points that could otherwise translate into actual dollars for just the right experience. I approached this with healthy skepticism two years ago, but this isn’t a fad, it’s a product function, and will likely continue to evolve. (The OpenTable program is still very much in a testing phase, but certainly has the potential to become a widely-offered program.)
Oh Look, Another Article about Restaurant Tech that Doesn’t Actually Talk about Restaurant Tech
Chefs+Tech is guilty of sometimes falling into to the “restaurant tech is a $XX billion space right now!” trap — admittedly, it’s exciting to watch as investors and big business spends actual money to invest in a space that, until recently, has felt very undervalued and ignored by that audience. That said, after a recent read of the latest TechCrunch piece (written by an investor) on restaurant technology (this one about market crowding), I realize there are far too many articles “about” restaurant-based technology that don’t actually talk about the technology, they talk about the market.
My beef with this sort of coverage runs deep and personal, as I do believe that the real value of the new technology is the value it brings to a business — not its market growth or potential or anything else. It’s important to understand the space as a whole, but seriously — can we talk about what restaurants are actually doing? (And, for the love, STOP throwing Soylent references into every restaurant- and food-tech piece, Soylent is NOT FOOD TECH.)
This (ironically) refers back to the New Yorker Soylent piece I highlighted last week; specifically this quote: “The tech world approaches food from the perspective of engineering: a defined problem to be solved, with the right equations, formulas, compounds, and brainpower.” What this fails to acknowledge, and what the tech press fails to acknowledge, are the hospitality elements that go into each piece of restaurant tech; the human connections, the way products can make life easier for restaurant workers, and the general human touch that the best restaurant technology products offer. This has always been a goal of C+T, so perhaps it was time for an eye-opener for everyone. Expect more of this and less of the above — at least from this newsletter.
A Technical Solution to a Big Restaurant Problem
Staffing a restaurant is often a business’ biggest problem. Where do you find qualified, trained professionals to work in a tough environment that’s arguably undervalued and underpaid? How do those same trained professionals find work with reputable employers? Enter technology. Over the past few years, several platforms have emerged: Culinary Agents, Poached Jobs, Industry (which just announced plans to launch nationwide) and city-specific apps like New York’s Jitjatjo, which Food & Wine calls “the Uber of finding restaurant staff). Each platform has a slightly different model, from focusing on networking and connections (not unlike LinkedIn) to the latter’s focus on “gigs” — that is, filling one shift at a time in restaurant and catering kitchens.
I like these companies as an example of the way in which technology can facilitate human connection and increase efficiency. In fact, this space is one of the better examples of this in restaurant technology as it underscores the importance of the actual people who work in the industry as opposed to the bottom line or convenience for the consumer.
OpenTable’s How to Grow & Thrive in the Restaurant Business
My latest (non C+T) project: an OpenTable ebook titled How to Grow & Thrive in the Restaurant Business. It features advice, stories, and strategies from established chefs and restaurant professionals to help young restaurants plan and grow for the future. It also contains some solid advice and success stories from chefs and restaurateurs including Eric Ripert, Bill Chait, Kevin Boehm (his viral video tips are killer) and more. Bonus: it’s a free download.
- Square talked to some power players about selling Caviar (with no luck yet) — Bloomberg
- The most essential Amazon Dash food buttons, ranked (there’s a Cheez-Itz button now) — Food & Wine
- Can this quiz guess your age and location based on your favorite junk food? (Mine was way off.) — Buzzfeed
- 5 NYC-based food startups to watch — AlleyWatch