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Lunchbox enters the metaverse.

Tech Tracker: Lunchbox auctions off virtual restaurant; Grubhub adds on convenience store couriers

Technology that boosts at-home foodservice experiences continue to reign supreme even as the pandemic wanes

Even as the pandemic continues to wane, customers’ interest in at-home convenience technologies that exploded during the pandemic has only grown. Technology companies continue to compete to offer the fastest and most convenient off-premises options for restaurant guests. For example, Lunchbox announced investments in more virtual technologies with a digital food hall and its entry into the metaverse with the auction of the first-ever NFT restaurant.

We’re also seeing third-party delivery companies growing their services to include groceries, alcohol and even Slurpee delivery from 7-Eleven with announcements of new and expanded services from DoorDash and Uber Eats.

With more customers opening up their virtual wallets to foodservice experiences without leaving the comfort of their homes, restaurants and tech vendors continue to rethink the definition of “dining out.”

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:

Lunchbox enters the metaverse with virtual reality restaurants

Restaurant technology solutions platform Lunchbox is all in on virtual restaurant experiences. At the end of January, the startup announced a $50 million series B funding, with investors including executives from DoorDash, Sweetgreen and &pizza.

With the investments, Lunchbox will be able to fund new projects like a partnership with virtual-restaurant company Virturant to open a new virtual marketplace with 25 virtual restaurant brands by mid-2022.  

But the big news from Lunchbox recently is the company’s foray into the metaverse, with the auction of what the company claims is the first-ever NFT restaurant to burger chain partner Bareburger. The animation of a virtual restaurant will be accessible in the virtual reality metaverse and could eventually allow visitors to the metaverse order Bareburger without removing their VR headsets. The idea of an NFT restaurant is already being explored by restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Panera Bread.

DoorDash is now offering loans to restaurants

With restaurants losing money due to staffing shortages, supply chain issues, and even third-party delivery fees, DoorDash has added financing to its suite of options for restaurant partners in partnership with Parafin. DoorDash Capital provides access to capital for operators “with a proven track record” on the platform.

The platform is providing “revenue-based financing” to qualified restaurants that they can use in everyday operations like rent, labor costs, and marketing expenses. Loan repayments will then be automated as a portion of sales on DoorDash.

“DoorDash Capital allowed us to renovate, install an air conditioning system and pay for deep cleaning services in our restaurant,” Noree Tyler, Owner of Chada Thai Restaurant in Norman, Oklahoma said in a statement.

Grubhub partners with 7-Eleven for convenience store deliveries

Grubhub is joining other third-party delivery services like DoorDash in offering customers deliveries outside of just restaurants with the launch of Grubhub Goods in partnership with 7-Eleven. After a successful pilot in New York City, the service is expanding to 3,000 locations around the country — covering most of Grubhub’s markets — and offering items for delivery like energy drinks, toiletry items, and snacks delivered by Grubhub drivers.

Currently, Grubhub does not allow a piggybacking system that would let customers order food from restaurants and tack on an order from 7-Eleven.

“Diners have come to expect more choices when they land on Grubhub, including convenience options, which we see as a natural extension of our marketplace and a way to bring more value to the entire Grubhub ecosystem,” Kyle Goings, director of growth and new verticals for Grubhub said in a statement.

White Castle expands Flippy the robot to 100 stores

After expanding its initial test pilot of Flippy the robot to 10 restaurants in October 2020, White Castle is extending its partnership with Miso Robotics and introducing the 2.0 version of its robot fry cook to 100 restaurants.

After an upgrade last fall, Flippy can now take over the work of an entire fry station, which can alleviate some of the labor pressures restaurants have been dealing with.

“Our partnership with Miso continues to lead the way on what’s next for back of house restaurant operations looking to empower team members with technology to better satisfy customers,” Jeff Carper, COO of White Castle said in a statement. “Having Flippy 2 be a new hire at 100 of our White Castle locations keeps us on a path to achieve big goals at White Castle.” 

Rollouts of the robot fry cook will happen in phases and by region, White Castle said.

Kitchen United opens virtual restaurants inside Simon malls

Simon Property Group, best known for its shopping centers around the world, has partnered with Kitchen United to launch the Grab Go Eat platform: a virtual food hall-like hub that allows customers to order from multiple restaurants either for delivery or pick up at the mall through on-site food lockers.

Currently, the service is available at Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, Calif. And Roosevelt Field mall on Long Island in New York.

Customers will be able to order meals from Kitchen United's kiosks, website or the Grab go Eat app.

Pizza Hut opens automated restaurant

Hyper Food Robotics, in partnership with Yum Brands, is testing out its AI kitchen technology with the opening of a 100% automated Pizza Hut in Israel in February.

Using 120 sensors and 20 AI cameras, the Hyper Food Robotics kitchen can entirely function without human interference. Hyper Food Robotics launched its first automated kitchen in Oct. 2021, and each restaurant is built on a 40-foot container platform, and is nearly self-sufficient with the added manual needs electricity, water, drains, and a communications system for successful operation.  

“Pizza Hut is a great first partner given they have teams based internationally, and we can use this visibility to manage projects across the globe,” Udi Shamai, cofounder and CEO of Hyper Food Robotics told Nation’s Restaurant News. “[…] Once we decided to move forward, Pizza Hut was involved in the process – the brand had a team gather from around the world to provide project insights along the way and collaborate on the design. The team also visited the restaurant in Israel to see the kitchen at peak functionality.”

In the future, Hyper Food Robotics is looking to partner with restaurants in the burgers, salads and bowls, and ice cream categories.

BiteNinja Acquires Zenu

Drive-thru technology company BiteNinja announced the acquisition of tech startup software company Zenu. With the acquisition, BiteNinja will be able to combine its virtual workforce technology with the ability to accept orders and payments directly from customer's phones for dine-in, curbside, and take-out. With the acquisition, BiteNinja was able to move forward with more restaurant partnerships.

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @joannafantozzi

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