The restaurant industry has changed drastically over the last 18 months when it comes to tech. What was once a sector slow to change and reticent to embrace digital is now practically at bursting point in terms of the many technological solutions available to restaurants. As food tech investor Brita Rosenheim recently wrote, “the past 18 months, technology solutions across the restaurant and hospitality industry evolved at such a fast pace that keeping up with changes proved challenging, even for those of us who work in the space. This rapid rate of adoption in the industry caused even the technophobes in hospitality to rapidly embrace tech solutions. “
Picking just 10 companies from the hundreds out there was a Herculean challenge when it came time to make this list. From virtual restaurants to maintenance management solutions to making better use of data, there’s no end of innovation in the restaurant tech sector these days. Our list is a tiny sliver of that innovation, showcasing what we believe are some of the most unique and intriguing companies shaking up and rethinking the restaurant business. Some of these companies will be at our upcoming Restaurant Tech Summit (make sure to get your ticket!), some we’ve written about recently, and some we are just getting to know.
It goes without saying, of course, that this isn’t an exhaustive list, and if you have a restaurant tech company you’d like to get on our radar, drop us a line anytime.
In no particular order, here are The Spoon’s Top 10 Restaurant Tech Companies:
When it comes to eliminating food waste, Too Good to Go was too good to not include on this list. The Denmark-based company partners with hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses that have surplus food items at the end of each day and sells that food at a discount to consumers, who pick up the food at a designated time. Too Good to Go started in Europe, but raised $31 million and expanded into the U.S. this year. Businesses win because it turns leftover foods into revenue. Consumers win because they get good food at a discount. And the world at large wins because there is less food waste going into landfills.
You can’t run a restaurant without a fridge (or stove, or electricity), which means maintenance and repair management will always be relevant in the biz, no matter how many pandemics you throw at it. Chicago, Illinois-based 86 Repairs is leading a new generation of companies helping to make the management of maintenance and repair tasks a little less burdensome on restaurants. The platform digitizes information about all a restaurant’s equipment and coordinates troubleshooting, warranty checks, booking technicians, and other tasks. The idea is to give restaurants one central location at which to view all data about all maintenance, even for large, multi-unit chains with thousands of units.
The restaurant labor shortage will go down as one of the major issues — probably the major issue — restaurants faced in 2021. One of the most intriguing solutions to the issue comes from a company called Bite Ninja. In essence, the Bite Ninja platform lets restaurants outsource their staffing needs for the drive-thru lane to gig workers that take orders remotely. Drive-thru customers see a face on a screen and order as they would normally. They may not even know the person taking the order is probably sitting at their kitchen table instead of standing inside the restaurant. Bite Ninja’s founders say the platform can increase order accuracy and upsell rates for restaurants, while workers don’t actually have to report to a physical location to clock in. In the future, the tech will be available for more uses than just the drive-thru, including front-of-house kiosks, curbside pickup, and phone orders.
ConverseNow currently creates conversational AI assistants for restaurant drive-thrus. In use at 750 restaurant locations in the U.S, ConverseNow says its AI achieves 85 percent order accruacy and bumps check sizes up by 25 percent. But ConverseNow is about so much more than just helping automate the drive-thru. The company wants its software to be the virtual plumbing for all of a restaurant’s digital ordering, connecting the drive-thru, mobile ordering, phones, kiosks and more. If it can achieve this, ConverseNow will convert many restaurant operators over to AI.
When The Spoon got a virtual tour last year of the Crave facility in Boise, Idaho that serves 16 virtual restaurant concepts, it felt like a look into the future of what restaurant/food delivery design could look in Metro areas. Not only were the physical attributes like a conveyor belt system that shuttled meals towards the front for delivery and a customer pick up area interesting, but Crave’s custom-built tech stack and in-house delivery drivers were indications that the company had built a facility and business model tailored towards the virtual brand era. The company wants to take it’s concept to four additional locations this year, and 10 by 2022.
While it’s easy to think most pizza restaurant shops are savvy at online ordering, the reality is that the typical independent sees only about one in five pizzas ordered online compared with three out of four for Dominos. Slice saw this as an opportunity and created a consumer app to help put independent pizza shops (16,000 of them so far) on solid digital footing to compete with the 800 pound gorillas in Dominos and Little Caesar’s. But what helped Slice make this list was their acquisition of POS startup InStore. Before Instore, Slice helped indies enter into the world of online ordering. Now, Slice Register (the POS based on Instore) enables the small guys to level up to the big guys and create a true multichannel pizza business with loyalty programs and integrated online/offline marketing programs.
The past decade saw restaurant point of sale move into the cloud and adapt features like pay-at-table and integrated online ordering, but the virtual brand explosion may be the biggest test yet for these systems. Qu POS is betting big on a virtual restaurant future with their KitchenUP platform, which acts as a lightweight operating system for ghost kitchen/virtual brands with unified management of multichannel order management, reporting, third-party delivery integration and other features built into an API-first architecture. FranklinJunction is utilizing KitchenUp across its network of 500 “host kitchens” to help power virtual concepts for such brands as Nathan’s and Frisch’s Big Boy.
An arguably bigger trend than ghost kitchens this year has been restaurants finding and leveraging underutilized kitchen space in which to run delivery-only restaurant concepts. NextBite, a company created by restaurant tech company Ordermark, helps restaurants find that space and launch those concepts. The platform operates a number of virtual/delivery-only brands restaurants can add to their existing business and in the process make some incremental revenue. The company raised a whopping $120 million for this concept at the end of 2020, and has since launched more than 15 virtual brands in thousands of kitchens around the country.
Look! Up in the sky! It’s your latte! Drone food delivery seems like sci-fi, but Manna is making it a reality right now. Earlier this year, the company was doing 50 to 100 drone deliveries a day and it’s prepping to launch service in a second Irish city. Though there are still regulatory hurdles to overcome, drone delivery could be a boon for restaurants because it delivers meals in minutes without needing to put a full-sized delivery car on the road. Drones are starting to take flight around the world, and Manna is helping the industry take flight.
Delivery is table stakes at this point for the restaurant industry, but we pub Delivery Hero on this list because of all the big-name services out there today, it has one of the more noteworthy approaches to the concept. In addition to operating restaurant food delivery services around the world (via a bunch of different subsidiary brands), the Berlin, Germany-based company has also launched its own VC fund to foster food tech innovation, opened an education program to teach coding to underserved individuals, and, most recently, kicked off a new initiative to provide its restaurant partners with sustainable packaging. All these efforts point towards the possibility of a food delivery industry that’s not only faster and more efficient, but also more inclusive and sustainable.