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Tech Tracker: Build a robot-run restaurant in 24 hours

Uber Eats brings back group ordering; Grubhub expands grocery delivery capabilities

As the pandemic wanes, on-demand delivery culture has not, and new and upcoming consumer-facing restaurant technologies are focused on increasingly focused on improving and expanding the delivery experience. From the relaunch of Uber’s group ordering feature to Grubhub expanding its grocery delivery services in partnership with Buyk, foodservice can’t offer new capabilities fast enough for the average consumer.

Additionally this month, we’re seeing more robotics technology penetrating labor-strapped restaurants, like Nala Robotics: which claims to be able to build a robot-run cloud kitchen in 24 hours: no human hands needed.

Tech Tracker rounds up what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, vendors, digital platforms, and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and why:

Nala Robotics launches robot-run cloud kitchen

Nala Robotics is an AI company that just launched Nala Marketplace: a network of robotic chefs that can be used to build and power a cloud-based kitchen in less than one day. This solution is ideal for quick-service kitchens that want to experiment with labor-light (or in this case, labor-nonexistent) models.

“Whether it’s an at-home chef who wants to start a food delivery business or a restaurant chain looking to enter a new market, our AI chefs can cook nearly any type of ethnic food, including Chinese, Thai, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Portuguese, as well as popular American food items such as burgers, salads, soups and more,” Ajay Sunkara, cofounder and CEO, Nala Robotics said in a statement.

Nala introduces the first fully automated robot chef that can learn how to precisely cook almost any recipes input into its system. Restaurants can create a virtual storefront where customers can place orders digitally where they are sent to the robot chef that can then place the order. The first fully automated ghost kitchen opened with Nala Robotics in Naperville, Ill. with plans to open more across the country soon. Operators pay a $250 initial fee and then a monthly licensing fee based on order volume.

Uber relaunches group ordering

Uber Eats now lets customers split the bill for easy catering or group ordering. The return of Uber Eats group ordering comes with a host of features including bill splitting, which will easily divide larger orders and ensure everyone’s food arrives at the same time, a checkout deadline for people in the group to place an order, and auto reminders to remind people to order food. Uber says the new features are ideal for office settings and virtual meetings.

Grubhub expands grocery delivery with Buyk partnership

Grubhub joins the throng of third-party apps venturing into or expanding grocery delivery capabilities. Grubhub announced this month a partnership with Buyk, which will allow for “ultrafast grocery delivery” in 15 minutes or less, starting at 30 grocery stores and convenience stores in New York City and Chicago.

“We’re excited to work with Buyk and together deliver everyday essentials and grocery items even faster to our diners,” Kyle Goings, director of growth and new verticals at Grubhub said in a statement. “This partnership will make the Grubhub Marketplace a one-stop shop for restaurants, convenience items and grocery supplies, building more diner loyalty and helping drive even more orders to all of our restaurant and merchant partners.”

Zitti payment and credit platform launches—raising $4 million

Zitti is a new payment and credit platform that is meant to give smaller restaurants the same digital payment options and opportunities as larger chains. With an initial $4 million raised to grow the team and expand the proprietary technology capabilities, this fintech b2b solution platform is meant to streamline an operator’s supplier needs.

From an online marketplace of suppliers to payment management software, Zitti’s platform is designed to help smaller restaurants get discovered by new suppliers and increase their buying power so it’s not just large chains taking the lion’s share of the supply chain.

This product solves the issue of soggy food delivery

Not all technology solutions are digital or cloud-based. Soggy food has been one of the top complaints from customers since on-demand food delivery exploded during the pandemic. Certain foods like fried chicken, French fries and steak don’t travel well in traditional clamshell delivery boxes. SAVRPak's small, biodegradable packets placed inside delivery packages are designed to “soak up” condensation and keep crispy food crispy and dry.

“Delivery is an environment where food doesn't always get handled the way we want it to after it leaves our hands,” Brian Morris, vice president of culinary, learning and development for Hattie B's Hot Chicken told Nation's Restaurant News. “Maybe there was traffic on the way to the wedding or office party and we want this beautiful fried chicken to make it there and be the experience we want it to be. […] This SAVRPak has been a game changer for us in this way. […] I was skeptical about putting these little frozen things in my pan of hot fried food. But hours later it was still crispy and I could not believe it.”

Tattle, Hyphen, more tech companies raise money

Even with the challenges the hospitality industry is facing these days, restaurant tech companies keep attracting outside investors. This month’s fundraising rounds include $5.5 million Series A funding for customer experience improvement platform, Tattle, led by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. Tattle is designed to collect customer feedback and measure guest satisfaction across digital channels, and currently represents 150+ brands.

Software and robotics automation company announced in February a $24 million Series A funding round led by Tiger Global, with participation from Toast cofounder and president, Steve Fredette. Hyphen has raised $34.4 million to date.

Digital operations platform Marqii announced earlier this month the closing of $4.1 million in seed funding led by Acronym Venture Capital, which will be used to expand product innovation, build out its customer support functionality, and address digital operations challenges for restaurants.

Paerpay is a contactless payment platform that raised $3 million in seed funding earlier this month led by MassMutual through the MM Catalyst Fund (MMCF). Paerpay is QR code and SMS-driven payment that does not require credit card usage at all.

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