Has software eaten us yet? A tech update for the food world

Technology has been threatening to “disrupt” the food & drink industry for years now. So far, software has only managed to improve a few systems, but hasn’t begun to bring the changes we keep hearing about from excited journalists. POS, online reservations and restaurant listings have all gone digital – but mainly as improvements on pre-existing workflows. Other promised revolutions just haven’t quite fomented yet.

But we’re not counting tech out – here are some recent developments in the tech world restaurant workers and owners should be aware of.

Amazon bought Whole Foods
Alexa might have misheard Jeff Bezos and bought Whole Foods on accident, but what’s more likely is Amazon is looking to step into the grocery industry (and not just delivery) in a big way. The first casualty of the Amazon/Whole Foods deal is clearly Blue Apron. They had spent months preparing for an IPO, just to have Amazon steal their thunder. The result is Blue Apron’s stock price is less than half of its pre-IPO high range. In English? Blue Apron is screwed. Not quite Radio Shack screwed, but not in a good place.

The issue here is more than grocery delivery services – brick and mortar groceries should also be on notice. Amazon has been mysteriously opening bookstores across the country. While this seems odd at first glance, it’s clear they are interested in learning how to do retail from physical locations. By taking over Whole Foods, Amazon has instantly become a major player with a huge footprint.

Mobile Food Apps are Taking Off
According to a recent study, the use of mobile apps for food delivery has climbed 18%. It’s a crowded space with some big names like UberEats, Amazon Restaurants (yes, Amazon again), Seamless, and Grubhub. Restaurants benefit since they don’t have to build their own delivery service – customers like it because they don’t have to leave home to get their favorite meals. In theory, selling food for delivery can be more profitable since the number of meals leaving the kitchen can exceed the dining room capacity.

David Chang is taking food delivery apps one step farther with his restaurant Ando. He did away with having a dining room at all, only making meals for delivery. Consumers can visit his site or download an app.

Upscale Restaurants aren’t Having It
While fast casual chains are increasingly looking to online ordering, as well as in-restaurant tablets and kiosks, there is one part of the industry that’s not bowing to the trend: Upscale dining.

According to a Forbes article, many nicer restaurants still rely on creating a personal connection with their guests. Instead of installing tablet computers, these restaurants still have servers going to the table, making conversation and either jotting down order notes or (my preference and training) memorizing the order.

Upscale restaurants have embraced POS systems, especially lower profile systems like Revel, but they aren’t feeling the pressure to push their guests to high tech ordering solutions. Technology can solve a lot of problems, but not all of them. Additionally, many problems on a restaurant floor are already solved with a smile, a good short-term memory, and maybe pencil and paper.

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