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Picnic automated kitchen model Picnic
Not only can automation help with the ongoing labor crisis, but human-free tech can also improve speed and convenience: two consumer needs that have become more important in the post-pandemic world.

Tech Tracker: Picnic announces more plans to automate kitchens

Plus, Lunchbox wants to solve your tech integration woes, DoorDash adds more features to help small businesses succeed

Automation technology is king these days, from flashy robots to Starbucks’ recent announcement that they would be investing in more automation to help cut down drink-making time. Not only can automation help with the ongoing labor crisis, but human-free tech can also improve speed and convenience: two consumer needs that have become more important in the post-pandemic world.

This month, the robot tech news keeps rolling in as pizza robot-maker Picnic, announced multiple new partnerships, including one with Domino’s International and one with Minnow Technologies to introduce an automated pickup pod.

In other news this month, DoorDash is adding a new merchant suite to help boost small businesses and Lunchbox is introducing a new integration network that helps solve the age-old problem, “why won’t these tech vendors play nicely together?”

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:

Picnic picks up more partnerships with Minnow Technologies, Domino’s, and more

Robot technology company Picnic has been busy this month. The pizza automation company announced a partnership with Seattle-based Minnow Technologies, which developed a self-service pickup pod (aka smart food lockers) for foodservice operators. Both companies envision the partnership working especially well for end-to-end automation in commercial kitchens, large franchises, sports stadiums and universities.

A customer will be able to place a mobile order, which is then picked up and created by Picnic’s pizza-making technology and placed inside a heated pickup pod for the customer to retrieve at their convenience.

But that’s not all: Picnic also announced a partnership with Seattle-based Moto — a pan-style pizzeria known for its unique pizza concepts like clam chowder and chop cheese — to deploy the Picnic pizza station Otis inside the burgeoning pizzeria.

“Moto was founded on the notion that our food should be nutritious and sourced near us to deliver the highest quality meal,” Lee Kindell, Founder of Moto said in a statement. “With more and more people desperate to get their hands on [our pizzas], we’re looking forward to Picnic helping us produce a higher volume of the peculiar pizza Seattle desires, without any sacrifice to taste.”

Perhaps one of the most intriguing partnerships Picnic announced is with Domino’s International, where the company will be testing the kitchen of the future at a Domino’s store in Berlin, Germany. While this is just a test demonstration, the Picnic partnership with international franchisee, Domino's Pizza Enterprises Ltd., Is a multi-year partnership that could lead to more automation solutions for the company in the future.

DoorDash launches a new merchant suite to boost indie restaurant performance

Following in the trend of third-party delivery companies expanding beyond their original capabilities, DoorDash has launched a new merchant suite meant to help boost performance of neighborhood restaurants. This reorganization of DoorDash’s current merchant capabilities lets operators easily see the solutions available to them in one place based on needs like “grow online” “attract new customers,” or “increase order volume.”

Customers will also have access to customer data, like a heat map of locations and zip codes of where their biggest customers are located. Limited access to customer data has long-been a criticism of third-party delivery companies and they are slowly trying to change their reputation for being possessive of merchant data. DoorDash also is launching a learning center where operators can learn skills and methods for how to increase their online orders.

“Our goal is to give restaurants more opportunities to grow, be more profitable, and operate efficiently in today’s online convenience economy,” Tom Picket, chief revenue officer at DoorDash said in a statement.  “We’re only successful when our partners are successful — we hope this new framework gives them the guidance they need to grow.”

Lunchbox introduces a new integration network

As the number of tech vendors continue to multiply, it can become more and more challenging to figure out how to get them to play nicely with one another. Lunchbox’s latest capability — Lunchbox Open — claims to take vendor integration to the next level with a singular platform that integrates features from many of the major vendor companies including Toast, all major DSPs, Square, Facebook, Google Ads, Brink, and LevelUp. The integrative technology also removes block on entry from legacy providers like Olo.

"Our mission is to help restaurants in every avenue and the best way to do that is by giving them access to pick and choose the integrations that make sense for them and their restaurant," Lunchbox cofounder Hadi Rashid said in a statement. "We're also opening up the race for integration partners.”

Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant enters the metaverse

The metaverse isn’t just for hot membership clubs or fast-food integrations anymore. Chicago-based Scott Harris Hospitality is launching an NFT membership program at Michelin bib Gourmand-recommended restaurant Joe’s Imports.

The digital NFT artwork will pay homage to the eponymous, late Joe Fiely, or “Smiley Joe Fiely” and will give partial proceeds of the NFT purchases back to the community.

Like many of the NFTs we’re seeing lately, the Joe’s Imports membership program will be a membership program, offering three levels of participation, ranging from $100  to $1,750 per year. Membership will include access to VIP events, discounts on meals and wine, free happy hours, exclusive events, and a private locker inside the Joe’s Imports wine cellar.

The latest batch of tech vendor funding

In the world of technology startup funding, virtual workforce company, Bite Ninja continues to be popular with another round of funding: this $11.3 million bridge funding round brings the company's total raised to date to $15.4 million. The funding will be used to help expand the company’s technology capabilities, and key investors this time around included Manta Ray Ventures, Owl Ventures, Agfunder, Pioneer Fund and TRAC Unicorn fund.  

Byte Kitchen, a restaurant technology company that helps scale restaurants through virtual food halls, just closed a $6 million round of funding. This fundraising round was led by Crosslink Capital, Emergent Ventures and Kevin Mahaffey, and will be used to expand locations, invest in the technology, and grow the team.

ConverseNow — a technology company known for creating voice-based AI ordering assistants — received a $10 million investment in partnership with Danny Meyer-founded private equity firm, Enlightened Hospitality Investments. Combined with their $15M Series A funding, which closed last year in partnership with Craft Ventures, that brings ConverseNow’s total funding to $28.8M. The company currently operates its technology in 1,200 restaurants across the country, including Domino’s Pizza, Fazoli’s and Blake’s Lotaburger.

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