Editor’s Note: Last year we announced that Skift was expanding into food and drink with the addition of the Chefs+Tech 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.
We publish C+T twice weekly.
Waffle House Is Always Open: Lessons in Hospitality
After an eventful few weeks of this year’s hurricane season, we’re reminded again that the Waffle House is (almost) always open. The Atlanta-based chain has built something truly unique on top of its promise to be “always open,” and enjoyed lots of time in the spotlight, from a cameo on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown to features in national news stories and, of course, a cult-like following.
With hurricane season comes the inevitable reporting out of targeted areas: You know you’re in trouble when the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore shows up and/or if the Waffle House closes. Indeed, the Waffle House index is a real thing, used by FEMA, to help determine the severity of any given weather event. Waffle House operates on a green-yellow-red traffic light-like scale. Green is operations as usual. Yellow is limited menu, presumably due to some sort of force, like a major weather event, that’s out of everyone’s control. Red is when a Waffle House is forced to close, which doesn’t happen all that often. How bad were the recent hurricanes? Waffle Houses did close in Texas and Florida due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The hospitality message coming from Waffle House is strong, and it also has a strong history of providing its own brand of hospitality as video from this year’s Welcome Conference in New York featuring three longtime Waffle House employees from Charleston proves. (Seriously, it’s great, watch it.) It begins with chef Sean Brock saying, “That’s how we know we need to get the hell out of town, if the Waffle House is closed.” The logistics are also a force in their own right. According to NPR, a special “jump team” made up of restaurant managers from Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia traveled to Houston during Harvey to make sure the restaurants could continue to operate even if local employees couldn’t make it. The Waffle House is a spectacular example of quiet confidence; it’s not flashy or trendy or particularly hip, but it’s a stalwart and predictable ray of sunshine, 24/7, regardless of the world around it. That kind of consistency is worth a lot of praise and admiration.
Yelp Complains Google Violated Promise Not to Pull Content From Its Site
Google is violating a 2012 regulatory settlement by displaying photos pulled from Yelp in its search results, according to a complaint Yelp filed with the FTC this week. According to the Wall Street Journal:
As part of a December 2012 settlement to end an FTC investigation into Google, the tech giant agreed to not use content, including photos and user reviews, from third-party sites that opted out of such scraping. Google’s commitment lasts through 2017 and applies to a variety of its products, including its local-business listings.
This is the latest battle in Yelp’s fight against Google, which it accuses of unfairly using its size and influence to beat out the competition.
Yelp maintains a huge store of images from all sorts of local businesses on its site, from restaurants to gyms to doctor’s offices — if you can review it on Yelp, you can also add an image. Google also offers similar functionality; users can add place photos to maps (and it’s especially easy if you’re using an Android phone, no surprises there). As the WSJ reports, the FTC has said it will punish Google if it doesn’t abide by the terms of the agreement, though hasn’t said anything specific to this incident.
When Yelp started in 2004, there weren’t a ton of players in the “place” game. Now you can upload a photo to be tagged to a certain location on any number of platforms. Yelp’s power isn’t necessarily in its photographs, but they do belong to Yelp, and I certainly understand the desire to keep them separate. Interesting question though, when you consider Google as an index of the internet: are they entitled to be able to index and display photos in search results for the good of the searcher, or does content pulled from other sites become part of their own platform, separate from Yelp and therefore a competitor?
Paying by Facial Recognition Isn’t That Far in the Future
Pay by phone is cool, but you know what’s cooler? Pay by face. In China earlier this month Alipay, Alibaba’s mobile payment service, launched smile-to-pay (really!) at a fast food restaurant. Also of note, according to a brief explainer video, you do have to confirm using your phone number.
While this kind of thing seems kind of far-future, it’s really not. Yesterday, at its much hyped iPhone event, Apple announced Face ID for the iPhone X, a new way to authenticate your identity with your mobile device. The super powerful iPhone can recognize you, even in the dark, and use your face to unlock your phone and make payments with Apple Pay. Apple’s not technically in the POS system game, but most systems can run on the iPad. If Apple’s camera can recognize your face, theoretically smile-to-pay could be a thing sooner than later. In addition to anyone who runs point-of-sale off of an iPad, restaurants with apps (looking at you, Starbucks) would presumably love this ability. It’ll probably take some time to work the facial recognition technology into all devices (the iPhone X is meant to represent “the future of smartphones,” according to Apple). but it’s absolutely coming. Crazy.