For the majority of restaurants around the U.S., last week marked the one-year anniversary since stay-at-home mandates initially forced dining rooms to close down. What’s followed has been 12 months of great uncertainty, loss, and struggle. But it’s also been a time of astounding resilience and creativity, with restaurants and restaurant tech companies alike have pivoted and shape-shifted to survive the times.
We’ve been checking in with individuals from both spheres to see where these businesses are now and what’s most useful in terms of tools and tactics as dining rooms slowly reopen and the world goes back to some version of “normal.”
But to better appreciate how far we’ve come and how much work has gone into this industry’s survival over the last year, I’d like to pause and take a brief look back in time at some of the major stories from these last 12 months.
- States across the U.S. mandate dining room shutdowns. Restaurants large and small scramble to make the overnight shift to delivery and takeout formats.
- Restaurant tech companies start offering software and services free of charge to restaurants. Third-party delivery services like Uber Eats and Postmates waive some fees — though not without some controversies.
- Restaurants like Canter’s Deli, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, and Torchy’s Tacos discuss strategies for going off-premises. Some include paring down menus, prioritizing takeout meals, and going DIY when it comes to the drive-thru.
- Restaurant tech slump: Toast lays off 50 percent of its workforce and McDonald’s slows development of its tech-forward store remodels.
- Cities across the U.S. address third-party delivery’s exhorbitant fee caps with the same solution: fee caps, fee caps, and more fee caps.
- But Chipotle is fine, thanks to a long-term focus on digital.
- “Make technology your friend” is an oft-repeated piece of advice as restaurants prepare to reopen.
- Presto, Sevenrooms, and other front-of-house focused tech companies start offering their so-called “contactless” software kits for the dining room.
- The buffet is dead. The first wave of to-go-only store formats starts to emerge from previously dining room-centric brands.
- Fee caps can’t save restaurants from third-party delivery practices.
- Some restaurant chains, including Panda Express, start to launch their own in-house delivery services.
- Restaurants get really creative with their ideas on how to safely reopen dining rooms.
- This Latin American startup teaches us how to run a restaurant from a mobile phone. (Hint: everyone will do this in the future.)
- Euromonitor predicts ghost kitchens will become a $1 trillion market by 2030.
- Chipotle is still doing fine, and leading the QSR industry-wide shift to drive-thru centric stores.
- Winter is coming. Restaurants start to experiment with outdoor dining solutions for colder temperatures. Said solutions include tends, glass houses, heat lamps, and igloos.
- Ghost kitchens, digital ordering, and back-of-house technology become the “hot topics” in restaurant tech. Ditto for virtual restaurants.
- QSRs start to release new store designs that feature more curbside parking spaces, multiple drive-thru lanes, and little to no dining room space.
- The in-house delivery versus third-party delivery debate further heats up, with many encouraging restaurants to take back control of their digital orders.
- Crave Collective and others put a fine-dining spin on the ghost kitchen and virtual restaurant concepts.
- California passes Proposition 22, which lets third-party delivery services classify their couriers and drivers as independent contractors and keeps these companies from having to pay workers comp, health insurance, and other benefits.
- Investment in back-of-house technology grows as both restaurants and restaurant tech investors realize the foreseeable future of the industry is in the kitchen, not the dining room.
- The year kicks off with a slew of new virtual food halls, ghost kitchen concepts, and an automat designed for the digital age.
- In a good sign for restaurant tech recovery, Toast bounces back and is planning an IPO. Olo files to go public.
- President Biden signs the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $28.6 billion in relief grants for small restaurants.
Obviously this brief timeline isn’t comprehensive, since there’s no way to really capture the true scope of the last 12 months in a single newsletter. It is meant to be a snapshot only of the change and turns the industry took over the last year.
Which is where you, readers, come in. Whether you’re part of an eating establishment, tech company, or an avid foodie, we would love to hear your restaurant experiences over the last year. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web
Nation’s Restaurant News has a new gallery showcasing stories “from the front lines” of the restaurant industry — that is, the restaurants themselves. NRN has compiled first-hand accounts of owners, managers, brand executives and others about their experiences from the last year.
Restaurant Dive has an ongoing analysis of the state of restaurants one year later across a number of U.S. cities. Available so far are in-depth looks at Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle. More to come.
Grubstreet looks at lessons the New York City restaurant scene has learned over the last 12 months, and what comes next.