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A couple of years ago I came across a restaurant in Dallas, Texas that featured a menu written entirely in emojis. It was unexpected and creative, yet clear enough that a server didn’t have to come over and re-explain everything on the page.
I’m not (necessarily) advocating we battle the current restaurant industry fallout with emoji menus, but maybe we could use some of that outside-the-box thinking when it comes to revising menu formats to fit the new reality we live in.
Since reusable menus are basically germ repositories, it’s no surprise they’re out now that dining rooms are reopening. The CDC’s recently released guidelines for reopening suggest restaurants “avoid using or sharing items such as menus” and to “instead use disposable or digital menus. . .” The National Restaurant Association’s guidelines tell restaurants to “make technology your friend” and suggest mobile ordering, and every other restaurant tech company that contacts me these days is offering up some form of digital menu for restaurants to integrate into their operations.
A lot of restaurants will definitely start out by offering simple disposable menus. Paper is cheaper than software most of the time, and typing up and printing out a menu is faster than onboarding your business to a new tech solution.
Over time, though, that could change. As more emphasis gets placed on digital ordering for everyone, we’ll access more restaurant menus through our own phones and mobile devices. That opens up a whole world of possibilities in terms of what restaurants could one day offer on their menus beyond just the food items themselves.
Just a few examples: Menus could provide in-depth information the ingredients in a dish, like where that cilantro came from and how many months the apple traveled before it hit your plate. Menus might also include ratings from other customers, and Amazon-esque “you might also like” recommendations could show up on the screen. Maybe you could dictate the portion size you want, thereby reducing food waste.
With AI making its way into restaurant tech more and and more, restaurants could also build dynamic pricing into menus, based on time of day, foot traffic, weather, and offer coupons and promotional offers in real time. And sure, if someone really wanted to, an emoji menu would probably fly right now in more than a few places.
Most of these things exist already, though they’re not widespread and some are still in conceptual stages. The massive overhaul of the restaurant menu is a chance to start bringing those disparate pieces together to revamp the way we order our food.
Kitchen United Is Open for Business in Austin
One effect of this whole pandemic is that we’ve seen an uptick in to-go orders, and that trend won’t subside anytime soon. That makes now a good time for restaurants — some of them, at least — to consider adding a ghost kitchen to their operations.
Those in Austin, TX can add Kitchen United to their list of choices when it comes to choosing a facility. The company, which provides ghost kitchen infrastructure (space, equipment, etc.) to restaurants announced this week its new location near the University of Texas is open for business.
A number of restaurant chains have either already moved into the space or plan to do so in the coming weeks. Kitchen United has also allocated one of the kitchens in the new space to Keep Austin Fed, a nonprofit that gathers surplus food from commercial kitchens and distributes it to charities. As part of the deal, Keep Austin Fed will be able to “rescue” food from restaurants with kitchen operations inside the new KU facility.
A press released emailed to The Spoon notes that “additional kitchen space is currently available” for restaurants that want to expand their off-premises operations. On that note, a word of advice for restaurants: make sure your restaurant is actually in need of a ghost kitchen before signing up with one. Kitchen United’s own CEO, Jim Collins, told me recently that restaurants need a certain amount of customer demand in order for the economics of a ghost kitchen to make sense. It’s not a small demand, either. In times like these, where the future of all restaurants is uncertain and what little money there is needs to be spent carefully, it pays to exercise some caution, even when it comes to an enticing new trend like ghost kitchens.
Los Angeles Moves to Cap Third-Party Delivery Commission Fees
Behold, more fee caps for third-party delivery companies. This week, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14–0 to ask attorneys to draft a law that caps the commission fees delivery services charge restaurants at 15 percent. “Why should restaurants, and their customers, be put in a position to subsidize delivery app companies? We need to level the playing field,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell told the Los Angeles Times.
This week’s proposal would also require that 100 percent of the tips customers leave on delivery orders through these apps go directly to the driver, which is pretty standard nowadays but caused some ruckus in the not-so-distant past. The fee caps would end 90 days after Los Angeles lifts its dining room closures.
Needless to say, the move — which several other cities have already made — is not popular with delivery companies. Postmates, which is LA’s most popular third-party food delivery service, said governments setting a price on fees threatens jobs and creates “a false choice between local restaurants and the delivery network companies that support them.” The service wants instead to have a fee charged in delivery orders that would assist restaurants. That in turn would translate to yet-another fee for the customer, and be yet-another way in which restaurant food delivery services will suggest/try anything to avoid having to shoulder some of the burden the pandemic has brought on the restaurant industry.
As restaurants slowly reopen and the industry starts to adjust to its new normal, now we’ll begin to see if fee caps actually make a difference for struggling restaurants, and if they are here to stay for the long run.