"the right to pee" | spooky kitchens #4
January 28th, 2022. NYC delivery worker legislation, grocery-bots, and a virtual restaurant review for the ages.
Happy Friday y’all,
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…to an extent. 👻
Now, to the news:
So what happened this week? (TL;DR)
Before we dive in, this week I’m writing from vacation in beautiful, stunning, absolutely frigid Montana! So it’s a little shorter, rougher, and gruffer than usual. Blame it on the booze and the altitude. I guarantee we’ll be back to our normal, highly-professional selves next week.
Now fire toilets!
in NYC, delivery drivers now have the right to pee!
Delivery Workers Cheer Restroom Access and Tip Transparency Alongside AOC and Chuck Schumer (Claudia Irizarry Aponte, The City).
There is something dystopian about the fact that it took two years of organizing, protest, and ultimately legislation to guarantee the right of a delivery worker to use the restroom at a restaurant they are delivering from. There is simultaneously something inspiring about the fact that the legislation actually came together at all. It boggles the mind to think that operators choose to treat certain people (customers) like people and others (drivers) like something less – a mindset that is the antithesis of hospitality. Not all operators do this, I know — not even most. Happily, this law removes the ability of any operator to engage in that mindset.
I’ve heard all the buts, ors, and excepts – the horror stories of “what 'people do in the bathroom”, “we can’t have them walking through our dining room”, etc. But as any restaurant operator — hell, anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — knows, customers do crazy stuff in the bathrooms all the time. Creative uses of TP, kids playing tag, and…”intimate relations”… for example. And if one casually-dressed person crossing the dining room ruins the vibe, then rethink the vibe (or relocate the bathroom). That is all.
As for the rest, workers are also entitled to greater transparency around how their tips are allocated (how much of a cut, if any, their company takes) as well as daily earnings reports (a pretty basic-seeming feature).
All in all, a long fight and a lot of work to secure what seem to me to be basic facets of dignity and employment. A win that makes one wonder what state our industry is in, that this fight had to be fought in the first place.
💰 Swiggy raises $700M from Invesco, others (Manish Singh, TechCrunch). Swiggy has outlasted and outperformed many of India’s other food delivery players, including Uber Eats (now out of market), Foodpanda, and Zomato, in the country that more or less pioneered the modern food delivery & ghost kitchens trades. With funding announcements like these, I tend to dial in on the purpose of the new money, in this case: “growth of the core platform” (basically, general growth — boring) and more amusingly, the growth of “quick commerce delivery service Instamart.” Instamart! Original! The company is valued at $10.7B — a hair over Deliveroo’s pre-IPO $10.5B valuation and well under Doordash’s pre-IPO $16B. There is no hint or mention of a go-public push for Swiggy as of yet.
💸 Order integrator Deliverect raises $150M (Joe Guzkowski, Restaurant Business). Is the online ordering market big enough for so many companies with so much funding to co-exist? Apparently, yes. This comes on the heels of Flipdish’s recent $100M fundraise.
🥾 TikTok Global Head of Marketing Ousted Due To “Repeated Stunt Marketing” (Karthik Kashyap, Toolbox) “Repeated stunt marketing” *cough cough* TikTok Kitchens *cough cough*. While not the primary reason for Tran’s departure, the TikTok Kitchens initiative seems to have been the last straw. Interestingly, the story implies (though doesn’t confirm) that the mildly viral TikTok/Earl Enterprises collaboration may not move forward after all. A notable quote from an executive stated, “We’re not in the restaurant business and we shouldn’t pretend to be.”
🥽 ShiftPixy Announces Launch of Robust NFT Gamification Loyalty Program (BusinessWire). Looks like ShiftPixy is going after the first true “virtual kitchen” title by (despite the NFT-focused headline) diving straight into the Metaverse. It is, however, a little odd to read a press release about the launch strategy of their suite of virtual brands without any mention of the brands themselves (and little more information on their website). Oh wait, that’s funny, look over there. It appears to be a cart, pulling a horse! Aha!
🌟👎 Stars like DJ Khaled and Steve Aoki have Bay Area restaurants now. They’re all uniquely terrible (Soleil Ho, San Francisco Chronicle). The gold medal-winner of celebrity virtual restaurant takedowns. Listen y’all, I can recognize that the celebrity virtual brand is a decent business idea, as long as we all recognize something else that may sound controversial but is a deeply unsurprising truth: the food is straight. up. bad. The article deftly (and hilariously) recognizes that and other inherent flaws in the model (namely the impenetrably opaque nature of this model) as the Chronicle’s food critic samples several of the trendy-but-shallow national name brands.
🚀 Starship food delivery robots land at SMU (Simone Melvin, The Daily Campus). This story is a vehicle for checking in on ground-based food delivery robots, which don’t seem to be going anywhere (except for more college campuses) very fast. Student opinions on the robots range from excitement at the novelty to disappointment at the novelty in the face of the school’s lack of other action on pandemic safety/social distancing/student QoL measures. Ultimately, Starship does this for the data, and SMU does this for the photo-op. (Look! We’re a hip, trendy, future-forward school that any student should be happy to pay tens of thousands of dollars per year to attend!)
🧑🌾 Are ghost-farms on the way? Walmart invests in vertical farming (headline edit) (Melissa Repko, CNBC). Vertical farming is one of those innovations that’s been “on the way” for years…but it is getting closer to being a more public (or even useful) part of the supply chain. Walmart joined with other investors in a $400M round for Plenty, as part of which Walmart will also take a seat on the board for the company. Also, no, ghost-farms are not on the way because that naming convention makes no sense for farms. What would it be, a farm that you can’t visit in person? You don’t do that anyway! “Secret farms” or “sky farms”, maybe. Hm. ™.
☁️ What does GoPuff’s move into private label signal for rapid delivery? (Victoria Campisi, The Food Institute) “Rapid delivery” meaning “packaged goods, such as anything you might find at a convenience store”-delivery. GoPuff is launching its own products across 4 in-house “brands” that will retail at a discount (like every other private label product). The Food Institute’s Jim Sanderson surmises, “Adding private label assortments convinces me that GoPuff is starting to compete on price to accelerate sales and earnings growth which competitors should watch closely.”
🤖 Robots that…work? Ocado’s grocer-bots to get even better (headline edit) (Sarah Butler, The Guardian). Ocado – an online grocer in the UK and early bird to the robotic revolution – has made updates to its gizmos and doodads. New robotic arms proficient in picking and packing will purportedly drastically reduce the need for workers to perform those duties, and a new line of smaller, lighter-weight robots can operate more flexibly in tighter spaces. With these innovations, Ocado will not need custom-built warehouses to operate its online groceries, which would eliminate a major speed bump to expansion – good news for Kroger (in addition to the Kitchen United and Instacart Ready Food launches), who the company partners with in the US.
🧛 REEF accused of 'poaching' employees from airport food operator OTG (Joe Guzkowski, Restaurant Business). REEF! C’mon! We want to believe in you! But these consistently bad headlines are getting ridiculous! This one (while not concluded) seems pretty cut and dry. Shame shame.
🚚 Gwyneth Paltrow joins the board of Marc Lore’s food delivery startup Wonder (Emma Hinchliffe, Fortune). GOOPer duper news for the mobile kitchen startup. A novel way for a celebrity to get into the world of food delivery (as opposed to yet another mediocre food delivery brand). Wonder, while highly funded and a unique proposition, is still looking to prove itself as a viable way to restaurant (verb). It is, somewhat worryingly, a bit similar to Zume’s whole thing before the company’s "strategic” implosion from pizza to packaging.
🍦Dessert: The McDonald’s ice-cream machine hacking saga has a new twist (Andy Greenburg, WIRED). Not so much related to ghost kitchens, but a pretty fun read — this whole situation is worth a look (or a listen on The Sporkful podcast). It’s a tale of corporate espionage & intrigue between the maker of the infamously-perpetually-busted McDonald’s ice cream machines and the maker of a fix for the broken machines, with new information recently coming to light that McDonald’s may have (allegedly, etc etc) stepped in to prevent franchisees from accessing this fix. Why? Because! Check out the piece for the full, twisty-turny story.
That’s been spooky kitchens.
P.S. If you’re just jumping into ghost kitchens and want to learn more, check out my ghostly glossary and spooky kitchens ghost kitchen cheat sheet. They’re there (and frequently updated) to help make sense of this weird and wild west.