The restaurant industry has always intrigued me. I wouldn’t classify myself as a “foodie” or even a large restaurant spender. We eat out a decent amount but our meals generally consist of bar food, with the exceptional date night where we have a little dignity with our orders. So if I don’t love the actual food aspect of it, and I don’t have the disposable income to eat out at super establishments 3x/week, what entices me about the restaurant business? Opportunity. Tons of opportunity.
For as long as I’ve worked @ Nielsen, I’ve seen how marketeers cannot crack the restaurant nut. Why do people do what they do in restaurants? I don’t know; the largest marketer in the world doesn’t know (sorry Nielsen). The fact that restaurant consumer behavior is mystifying, completely egotistical (e.g. wanting to be “seen” at a certain place…okay, maybe only in New York), and downright gluttonous in a city with so much good food in it is very interesting to me. With that said, the restaurant industry is also archaic. I spoke with a good friend of mine who is a managing partner at perhaps the largest restaurant organization in this city about the lack of urgency in restaurants to advance technologically. “Don’t know, it’s just the way it is,” he responded.
In a time where tech is booming, the fact that we still wait in line for a table, pan through a menu, order food, wait longer, eat our meal, awkwardly split a tab by doing behind the check math, swipe a credit card through a waiter or waitress, wait for a longer period of time, sign a paper, wait again, then mosey out when we feel like it… is laughable.
I’ll switch topics to Uber. What a brilliant business that is. As everyone probably knows, the company was recently valued at $18 bil and is gaining. I even read that it could top $100 billion in the next few years. This one hits close to home with me as the co-founder and COO of Uber is a member of my college fraternity (Ryan Graves; Alpha of Beta Theta Pi) and is just 4 years older than I am. I’m pretty sure he signed my pledge book and wrote “eat meat, drink beer, break shit” in it when I was a freshmen too. Who knew he’d be worth almost a billion dollars by the time he was 30? As a side note, this is also one of the most inspiring articles i’ve ever read and you should read it too (http://www.dailyfinance.com/on/uber-billionaire-ryan-graves/).
It took me a minute to come around to Uber until the recent promotion of UberX. These are DIRT cheap cab prices and I took 3 trips this weekend for 7+ miles of travel for a combined $16 bucks. Why am I talking about Uber? Because I am finally drinking the on-demand-logistics-through-an-app cool-aid and loving it. Restaurants should learn a thing or two.
With this type of technology available and flourishing, how could restaurants not turn the chapter on their old-school methodologies? If they do, I predict that in 5-10 years, people will go to restaurants NOT just for the food, but for the user experience through their mobile apps. I could have walked and/or driven my own car this past weekend, but the fact that I could call a cab remotely through a simple button on my phone for dirt cheap made it kind of fun.
All of this got me thinking. I have this weird interest with restaurants, I live in a world of consumer behavior @ Nielsen, and you cannot brush aside the mobile tech boom. What is all of that wrapped up into one? “Food Tech” as it is called. Using tech to revolutionize the food industry. I subscribed to a New York based publication “FoodTechConnect” and found staggering statistics. In just the month of May, there were three acquisitions and seventeen notable financings which funneled close to $575 million into the food tech ecosystem. People are seeing exactly what I am and pouncing on it fast. Looks like things are all about to change.
These investments & major M&As include, but are not limited to:
– Mobile payments
– Consumer data
– On demand door-to-door service
Two of my personal favorites are as follows (taken from a recent Food Tech journal i subscribed to):
Swipely Raises $20m. The Providence, RI payment processing company compiles and analyzes datafrom payment networks, POS systems and the social web to provide restaurants with financial, operational and marketing data, as well as actionable insights for things like menu item profitability and staff training to boost revenue and tips. The proceeds will be used for marketing, product expansion and continued team build out. <– this reminds me so much of the market my company cannot tap. Genius.
DoorDash Raises $17.3m. The Palo Alto-based on-demand restaurant food delivery platform considers itself a “tech and logistics company that happens to deal in food”. As I noted in October, the company seems to have visions beyond food delivery, as its Angel List profile describes it as a “local, on-demand FedEx, starting with restaurant food delivery.” The company will use the funding to grow out the team, continue developing the dispatch technology and pursue a national rollout. <–Seamless backdoor processing meets UPS logistics.
Farmeron Raises $2.7m. The Columbus, OH-based dairy and cattle farm business management software that allows farmers to update and manage their data online. TechCrunch reports the funding will be used to go after enterprise sales. <– When i was home in OH last weekend for some wedding planning, I read about these guys. Left a very successful day job @ P&G to start this up. I love the willingness to step out of the corporate machine – and phenomenal stability @ P&G – into the unknown.
All of this is unbelievably exciting. I’m seeing a pattern of San Fran & New York being the pilot markets and Chicago is just starting this adoption. This could be an awesome time to break into the Food Tech scene here in the windy city. I also live 2 blocks from “Restaurant Row” here in the West Loop, so i highly suspect these will be early adopters to food meeting tech.