Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, and cryptocurrencies have been gaining traction in the restaurant industry as promotional tools, if not yet as payment methods.
NFTs are digital media, such as artistic works that are verified as authentic using blockchain technology, similar to the way that the ownership of cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, is verified. Some NFTs have become popular as collectors’ items.
Cordia Corp., which is planning to launch a series of celebrity-driven virtual restaurant brands starting this June in Los Angeles, is planning to use NFTs and other crypto-rewards to generate buzz and drive consumer interest.
Peter Klamka, president of Cordia, said he tested NFTs as rewards, as well as the acceptance of crypto-currencies, at the brick-and-mortar restaurant he previously owned, The Blind Pig in Las Vegas.
“Over time, it may become a viable payment option,” he said of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and ETH, a cryptocurrency available on the Ethereum blockchain. “But for now … no one is coming in on a Friday night to get a large pizza and two Cokes to go, and paying with bitcoin. It’s not happening.”
As promotional vehicles, however, NFTs can generate strong interest among collectors, similar to baseball cards, he said.
“I think NFTs are great for building awareness, and great to attract a younger audience,” Klamka said, noting that the “sweet spot” for interest in NFTs is the 14-25 age group.
Cordia is planning to use NFTs to promote the launch of Tasty by Carmen Electra in Los Angles, he said. For example, the company could create some special Carmen Electra NFTs that it could award to early customers, or sell as part of a meal subscription program. NFTs in the form of trading cards, short videos and artwork could be part of the launch, the company said.
Over time, Cordia plans to incorporate NFTs and cryptocurrencies into rewards programs for its virtual brands, which also include Feast by Busta Rhymes, and Holly Sonders Yummy. Additional virtual brands in development include partnerships with actress Denise Richards and other celebrities and athletes.
Detailed menu information about the individual brands is not yet available. Cordia said Tasty by Carmen Electra, which will be offered for delivery only from the kitchens of existing restaurants, will offer “a healthy curated menu of fresh appetizer and entree options with a unique California influence.”
Klamka said he believes NFTs stand the most chance of success if tied to a popular brand — either a popular restaurant brand or a celebrity, for example.
Taco Bell recently launched an NFT promotion tied to the return of potatoes to its menu. The Yum Brands-owned quick-service chain sold five copies of five different digital art designs it called “NFTacoBells,” with the 100% of the profits going to its charity, the Taco Bell Foundation.
“At Taco Bell, we love pushing boundaries,” said Nikki Lawson, chief global brand officer at Taco Bell, in an email statement provided to Nation’s Restaurant News. “Being one of the first brands to emerge in the NFT space was an exciting opportunity for our fans to own a digital piece of the brand they love. After selling out in 30 minutes, it’s clear the NFTacoBell collection was as craveable as our food.”
Shortly after the Taco Bell promotion, sister brand Pizza Hut Canada debuted 1 Byte Favourites, which the chain called “the world's first non-fungible pizza (NFP).”
The NFT collection, which is tied to the chain’s $10 Favourites pizza promotion, features a limited number of digitized images of Pizza Hut pizza slices that are available for purchase on the Rarible platform for $0.0001 ETH, or about 16 cents in U.S. currency.
“We're really excited to launch 1 Byte Favourites as an opportunity to give fans another way to get their hands on their favorite Pizza Hut recipes, even if it's virtually,” said Daniel Meynen, chief marketing officer, Pizza Hut Canada, in a statement. “It's a fun way to deliver our Favourites on an emerging platform where people can truly appreciate the perfect pan pizza forever.”
Meanwhile, very few restaurants have even attempted to accept cryptocurrency to pay for food and beverages. Although there was a lot of media hype around Starbucks testing cryptocurrency in the last few years, the coffee chain does not currently accept cryptocurrency directly as a method of payment. The Starbucks mobile app, however, does have an integration with the Bakkt digital wallet platform.
"Select Starbucks customers can use a variety of digital assets as payment via the Bakkt integration in the Starbucks app," a spokesman for the Seattle-based chain told NRN. "We are conducting a limited test where customers can use Bakkt Cash as a payment method to reload their Starbucks Card in the Starbucks app."
UPDATE: This story has been updated with additional information from Starbucks.