As customers demand more digital technology engagement from their favorite restaurants — even neighborhood spots — tech vendors are rapidly adding more bells and whistles to their repertoire to keep up with changing consumer needs.
This month, two digital tech upstarts — Lunchbox and Thanx — have released new versions of their online ordering and loyalty software and are well on their way toward becoming end-to-end solutions for operators. While we can’t advise operators on how to build their tech stack, we can break down how these new features work.
Speaking of tech platform upgrades-- several third-party companies are adding reservation capabilities to their repertoire, including DoorDash and Uber, plus Pepsi is rolling out ghost kitchen tool capabilities, begging the question: “just how many companies are trying to cash in on the burgeoning digital tech solutions industry?”
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:
Uber, DoorDash and SpotOn are now taking restaurant reservations
In the restaurant tech world, keeping up with Joneses has come to mean “make sure you’re adding the same features as your competitors.” This month, three different tech platforms added reservation-making capabilities to their suite of tech bells and whistles. As a result, lines are beginning to blur between reservation stalwarts like OpenTable and Yelp and other software vendors.
First up is the payment software company, SpotOn, which began offering SpotOn Reserve last month as a booking management feature for restaurants and eatertainment venues. The feature includes both reservations and waitlist capabilities and leans into events reservations, which could be a niche opportunity for SpotOn to resonate with families looking to book venues for birthday parties.
DoorDash and Uber both began offering reservations capabilities on their platforms in October. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi confirmed in the company’s third quarter earnings call that the company has been adding new features to Uber Explore, which includes the ability to book events and make restaurant reservations through the app, though that capability is connected through OpenTable.
Around the same time, DoorDash began piloting online reservations in select markets in a few U.S. cities as first reported by tech blog, Expedite.
“DoorDash knows that a one-size-fits-all solution to supporting the growth of restaurant partners across the country is not a viable option,” a company spokesperson told media. “To evolve alongside merchant needs, we’re constantly testing innovations to identify new opportunities for partners to grow, in turn enhancing how consumers interact with their business. We’re evaluating the results of this pilot, and don’t have anything more to share at this time.”
This is not the only feature DoorDash has rolled out recently. The company is also rolling out a Merchant Benefits program, which partners with outside vendors to give operators discounts on vendors that can help restaurants attract and retain staff, including healthcare, educational benefits, and staff management. DoorDash also released new advertising solutions, directly aimed at helping small restaurants launch sponsored listings. Each of these new features appears aimed at helping DoorDash transform into an end-to-end solution for operators.
Lunchbox 2.0 and Thanx 3.0 platforms released
Last month, Lunchbox and Thanx unveiled the latest version of their suite of tech capabilities for restaurants, with the former focusing on online ordering integration, and the latter focusing on the next wave of digital loyalty programs.
Lunchbox has completely rebuilt its online ordering and vertical integration platform from scratch for this new version. The new Lunchbox includes a new web and mobile ordering platform, more strongly personalized marketing capabilities (like texts and push notifications), loyalty, catering, and “plug and play” integration, that allows (many of) the vendors in your tech stack to play nicely together.
The biggest difference between the two? Lunchbox claims this version is easier for restaurants of all sizes to use, is faster to set up, and integrates with more POS systems. Lunchbox is clearly trying to become the next big household name in restaurant tech by rapid-fire solving troubleshooting problems restaurants are facing with their tech stacks.
Thanx meanwhile, is for the most part staying in one lane: loyalty, rewards and marketing. The tech company is at the forefront of changing how digital loyalty works in the restaurant industry and has added customized rewards features and a DIY loyalty program maker so restaurants can pick which types of rewards work best for their customers, as well as A/B testing to figure out what they actually want. Though they’re in different lanes, Thanx and Lunchbox are both pushing the importance of personalization, custom options, and ease of digital experience.
PepsiCo is getting into the ghost kitchen space
Pepsi is making its mark on the virtual restaurant industry more lately. PepsiCo Foodservice just announced that it will be rolling out a ghost kitchen tool for restaurants that will help operators be able to “seamlessly enter the ghost kitchen space,” leveraging the company’s resources, as well as its suite of Pepsi brands. This new capability was launched in response to the test of Pep’s Place last year: a month-long virtual restaurant popup that let customers pair Pepsi beverages with food items. Pepsi has added new ghost kitchen menus that operators can choose from if they're looking to enter the virtual restaurant space under the umbrella of a trusted brand.
The new ghost kitchen capability is part of an expansion of the PepsiCo Foodservice Digital Lab.
Food lockers are now in apartment buildings
We’ve already written about how food locker companies and off-premises solutions like Alchemista have their eyes on residential spaces as part of an end-to-end solution for delivery, and here’s more proof: Bell Partners apartment management company is partnering with Minnow Technologies to add smart food delivery to its list of amenities in select residences.
It’s only a matter of time before the food tech space enters our home, and Minnow is already well on its way there. Apartment buildings will have smart pickup pods that track and monitor food deliveries and pickups instead of building doormen and women.
Grubbrr acquires GetNoble
Self-ordering technology company Grubbrr announced the acquisition of digital commerce platform GetNoble, which will allow both companies to enter the sports and entertainment venue spaces. Expect the onslaught of tech M&A news to continue as “unicorns” and “unicorn hopefuls” continue to be snatched up by larger tech vendors.
And the latest batch of tech startup funding rounds goes to….
Voila workforce cloud management platform raised $10 million in series A funding.
Beekeeper employee communications solution raised $50 million in series C funding.
TouchBistro’s Canadian/American restaurant management platform raised $150 million CAD.
Meez digital recipe tool raised $11.5 million in Series A funding.