Here’s a concept that seems stupidly simple but is actually a technologically complex feat: letting customers order from multiple virtual restaurants with a single digital transaction.
As ghost kitchens multiply, the idea of housing multiple restaurant concepts under one roof grows ever-more commonplace, be it Kitchen United’s Mix platform, Crave Collective’s virtual food hall or individual restaurants cooking up more than one menu in their kitchens.
Until recently, customers wanting to order from such facilities had to do so through third-party delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash, making a separate transaction for each brand they ordered from, despite those brands being physically housed under the same roof. While that’s not the biggest problem the world has ever faced, it does add the so-called friction to the customer ordering experience. And these days, the restaurant biz is all about getting rid of friction.
It follows, then, that some are working to change this siloed ordering process for customers. In the first place, more ghost kitchen/virtual food hall organizations have their own digital ordering properties. Kitchen United has its Mix platform where customers can order from several different brands via the KU website. Crave Collective has 16 different brands available via single app. Restaurant tech company Lunchbox is powering C3’s virtual food halls, making all choices accessible from a single interface.
In addition to letting customers ditch the third-party delivery services and order directly from the ghost kitchen or virtual food hall, these digital properties (and others) also let customers mix and match meals from multiple different restaurant brands.
Speaking to me for a Spoon Plus report recently, Kitchen United’s Chief Business Office Atul Sood called this idea “multi-concept ordering,” and suggested many more virtual operations will soon offer it.
The idea is simple: Take a bunch of different virtual restaurants housed in a single ghost kitchen and make them all available via a single interface (e.g., an app or website). Consumers can mix and match orders from different businesses, pay for them with a single transaction, and get all the food delivered at once.
The execution of this idea is less simple. As Sool explained, “bundling” different concepts is a technologically complex feat and therefore an expensive and time-consuming endeavor for businesses to attempt.
Imagine a family where one person wants a burger, another wants Chinese food, and another prefers pizza. They want to order all their items at once and have them arrive via the same delivery driver at the same time.
To do that, there are a few different considerations. First of all, the concepts have to be under one roof — hence the rise of ghost kitchens and virtual food halls a la Kitchen United Mix. Additionally, the fire times need to be coordinated across those different concepts. A poke bowl and a rack of ribs don’t take the same amount of time to prepare, and coordinating those pieces is “a technological challenge,” according to Sood.
KU Mix has solved for these and other challenges by building out its own in-house technology system. The company has even launched a version of it outside the walls of its own facilities. At Westfield Malls, it is installed to enable a more digital and off-premises-friendly food court experience, for example. “It doesn’t make sense for a restaurant to develop this type of technology [themselves],” said Sood. “It just makes sense for for them to license it from from somebody else.”
Kitchen United Mix is one example of this technology at work. It also seems to be an obvious opportunity for restaurant tech companies in general, since there aren’t many platforms yet specializing in this type of functionality. I doubt the playing field stays empty for long, though. Demand for digital ordering is only going to increase, and even outside of the virtual food hall, there are plenty of relevant contexts for this multi-concept ordering: sport venues. airport food courts, the aforementioned mall. Those areas of life may not be back in full swing quite yet, but when they return, they’ll include many more digital processes, including how we get our food items.
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Speaking of pizza, restaurant tech company Slice recently launched a POS system exclusively for pizzerias. According to a company press release, this “will put the same tech tools and data insights that Domino’s franchisees receive directly into the hands of independent pizzeria owners.”