There’s no denying that over the past two years of the pandemic era, digital investment and off-premises capabilities have become the norm for both small and large restaurant companies. But Nabeel Alamgir, CEO and cofounder of digital ordering and marketing platform Lunchbox, believes we’ve only just scratched the surface of what virtual restaurants and digital marketing could look like for restaurants moving forward.
Imagine being able to put on an Oculus virtual headset and “walk into” a delivery-only restaurant that only exists in a digital space, or being able to participate in an NFT-based restaurant week where customers can collect NFTs by dining in restaurants that are participating. These are a couple of the specialty projects that Lunchbox is working on and launching.
Alamgir is the former chief marketing officer at casual-dining burger chain Bareburger who came up with the idea for Lunchbox after lamenting how much money restaurants spend on third-party delivery commission fees. Though the focus of his career has largely been marketing, Alamgir has become a notable rising star of the restaurant technology space.
Lunchbox began as a delivery solutions company to help restaurants become more independent and either invest in self-delivery or use third-party delivery as a last-mile service. The goal was to help operators build up their online presence so that customers go to the restaurant first instead of just scrolling through Grubhub.
Beyond direct delivery, Alamgir’s technology platform is a multi-faceted digital solutions manager with marketing, technology integration, consumer data, POS, branding and website design tools for its customers. His big idea for the industry is to become the one-stop-shop for restaurants looking to build out their digital storefront.
“Toast is everything in-store; Lunchbox is everything outside the four walls,” Alamgir said, noting the POS provider. “We want to go ahead and remove the fragmentation from the space. … We’re telling operators to use Lunchbox as their innovation hub or even the operating system that you can expand on top of.”
Alamgir said that the digital storefront isn’t just about having a website where customers can view a static menu, order food or get a 20% off coupon; it should go beyond that to become more interactive and show off a restaurant’s branding, especially for virtual restaurants that don’t have a physical storefront.
“If you are launching five wing concepts from one kitchen, that doesn't make you special,” he said. “What makes you special is launching actual brands that matter. Why are we not putting the same capital effort and resources into launching virtual brands?”
Alamgir thinks that restaurants’ digital branding is just getting started, and that they’re still in the dark ages of being focused on basic functionality.
“It can’t just be about ordering food,” he said. “It is about expanding your culture and your brand. … We're going to allow you to do that and continue to do that as we move to a new digital world of off-premises.”
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