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"TNSTAAFL" | spooky kitchens #18
May 20(ish), 2022. Grubhub's no good very bad day, automated delivery progress(?), and to-go-optimized food halls.
Friday Sunday y’all,
First thing’s first: you can also read this on the web, with slightly better aesthetics than your inbox. Just FYI.
And just a quick reminder: all green text is linked.* (*not always to anything important)
So what happened this week? (TL;DR)
Not too much, actually! All sides no features in this tardy edition — catch up below.
Now fire a sparse week in ghost kitchen news!
👏 There’s 👏 no 👏 such 👏 thing 👏 as 👏 a free 👏 lunch 👏 Grubhub 👏(“Grubhub’s ‘Free Lunch’ Promo Went Predictably Haywire” Bettina Makalintal, Eater). For Grubhub these days, orders appear to be orders regardless of the quality of the experience. If you’re in this business and in New York, no doubt you heard, read about, or even participated in the company’s disastrous free lunch (or rather, $15-off) promotion on 5/16. You can get the deets of the snafu in the article; but in short, order rates climbed as high as 6,000-per-minute, a burden the service was vastly un-or-under-prepared for, resulting in at best late lunches and at worst never-delivered lunches. As the article mentions, swing-for-the-fences promos like this are becoming more common for third party delivery as all three big providers (especially Grubhub) find themselves scrambling for business in this entirely predictable culture swing back towards dine-in.
Uber Eats’ latest automated delivery attempt tests in LA (“Uber Eats pilots autonomous delivery with Serve Robotics, Motional” Rebecca Bellan, TechCrunch). Another day, another automated / robotic delivery test involving yet another robotics company I’ve never heard of that might have it figured out this time (I can’t emphasize enough the weight of the emphasis on “might”). TBH, there’s not really much new about this pilot. It’s delivering a hard-to-screw-up product (juice & acai bowls) in a limited service area with safety passengers riding along in the self-driving cars. But strangely, the lack of pomp and circumstance around this test feels to me like we are actually getting closer to progress, even practicality — not necessarily from the Uber Eats camp, but generally — for automated delivery. And because any sign of true usability for automated delivery could forecast a tectonic shift in food delivery & ghost kitchens, we’ll keep up with the mundane headlines until they finally become significant (and then we’ll say, “Aha! I knew that was the one!”).
Big DoorDash buyback (“Food Delivery Company DoorDash Approves $400 Million Stock Buyback” BW Disrupt). Not much to say here other than an eyebrows-raised, “Hm!” Very generally speaking, a significant stock buyback after a slide like DoorDash’s could indicate that the company doesn’t anticipate the price getting much lower, if not rising again in the near(ish) future. But who knows? The 3PDs are nothing if not hopelessly, helplessly optimistic.
Profile on JustKitchen, expanding in SE Asia (“Taiwan's JustKitchen takes on Grab in ASEAN cloud-kitchen race” Dylan Loh, Nikkei Asia). JustKitchen has been floating in the sea of ghost kitchen conversation for a little while now — and if you’re unfamiliar, this is a good profile on the company for a catchup. They’re an all-in-house operation, similar to a C3 or Kitopi, where they both operate their own brands (at least 16 of them according to the website) as well as license menus from partners like Smith & Wollensky’s (an odd but interesting ghost kitchen choice) and TGIF-To-Go. As far as logistics, JustKitchen employs a hub-and-spoke model (central prep kitchen that supplies multiple “spoke” kitchens that render orders for customers, ideally giving them greater market coverage with a smarter real estate distribution). They’ve been looking to expand beyond their SE Asian base for some time.
A selection of ghost kitchen / food hall combo openings & photos. We’re seeing more to-go-optimized food halls spring up these days, whether they’re a “traditional food hall in the front, ghost kitchens in the back” operation or simply have better takeout & delivery logistics than your daddy’s impenetrable mall food courts. This way they satisfy people’s cravings for that communal, energetic, shared-fun atmosphere of food halls while expanding tenants’ reach beyond the four walls of the market.
“A massive food hall and market is opening in downtown Toronto” Karen Doradea, Dished.
“Food Hall Begins Taking Shape At Riverdale Park” Alison Beckwith, Hyattsville Wire. (DC-adjacent).
“DoorDash has opened its first virtual food hall and ghost kitchen in Brooklyn — see what it's like to eat there” Brittany Chang, Insider. Colorful on the outside, utterly stark, minimal, & cold on the inside!
That’s 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 to help make sense of this weird and wild west.