5.6.214: #JBFA / On Ordering

This week: All about ordering. Because really, it’s still all about getting people exactly what they want exactly when they want it.


Live from the James Beard Awards

illustration by April B. Walters
illustration by April B. Walters

So… perhaps I am changing my tune on the live awards thing. Just because you can watch a live show online, follow via hashtag or other Twitter account, and get live reactions… should you? Last night’s James Beard Awards were probably the most live-viewed in history. At least, they were if your Twitter feed looked anything like my Twitter feed, where my food-minded ilk tweeted from inside and outside of the event.


I’m genuinely curious if people prefer watching an event on their own — or experiencing one through the perspective of “experts” and professionals. This applies here, but also to events with historically huge viewership: Grammys, Oscars, NFL drafts and the like. It seems less about catching the produced, on-stage action in real time and more about experiencing the voices surrounding the action. Those perspectives are what makes these things most interesting, anyhow. (Think about it: what’s more exciting? Watching a presenter award a successful artist onstage, or that two-second cut to Taylor Swift’s “surprised” face when she doesn’t win said award.)

My hands-down favorite images came via Saveur’s backstage camera; page after page of portrait-style images of all our favorite food and bev folks posing for the camera. Awesome stuff. And, of course, watching chefs congratulate their peers for well-deserved success doesn’t get old. These examples, at least, are all the reasons that I love the internet at live events. Live-streaming? Eh. We’ll see. For me, at least, the curated experience of reading live action + commentary through a smartly edited feed wins out this time.


Thing That Is Awesome: Order Ahead with Square

I wish that this existed when I was a magazine assistant and acquiring my boss’s lunch every day somehow always turned into a one-hour affair. Mobile payment service Square added a new pre-order feature to its point-of-sale system allowing users to order ahead from a restaurant and pay for their meal — before they even pick it up. This is smart. It cuts out on a whole lot of potentially time-consuming actions: deciding what to order. Waiting in line. Waiting for your food. Paying for food. (Look out for a dedicated mobile app to make this process even easier, coming soon.)


Order Dinner via Text Message

Orders! So hot this week. Up until now, my experience with ordering dinner via text message comes only in the form of texting my husband on his way to the burrito place. But a new idea could change part of the restaurant-flow experience if it catches on. Eatabit, out of Charleston, South Carolina allows patrons to order food from a restaurant via text message.

The service, which is already available in a handful of local restaurants and a local baseball stadium, is programmed to understand and respond to basic commands like “I want to order food” and “how long until my food is ready?” When a customer texts an order, it goes directly to the kitchen, not unlike the process by which a server taps in a table’s order via touch-screen. In some cases, it aims to replace the sometimes-annoying experience of calling in an order. In others, it allows patrons to order at their own pace. Obviously, a service like this isn’t going to take hold at a fine dining restaurant. But in other cases, I’m surprised it’s taken so long to happen.


Beacons: The Next Big Thing?

Continuing the ordering theme for the week: Location-service apps have had their moment in the sun (think: Foursquare, Gowalla, anything else that allows a check-in) — so what’s next? According to some, even more precise location-based marketing. That is, marketing to customers who are already in your restaurant. Whether you find it awesome or terrifying, a device’s ability to share its precise location makes it possible for a restaurant to understand you’re inside and, potentially, what you’re going to order. Or, at least, what you’re most likely to order. A post from Next Restaurants has some thorough and detailed thoughts on the matter.

Mostly, though, this could be the ultimate in restaurant personalization. I don’t love this for every restaurant, just like I don’t love ordering ahead or touch-screen ordering. But it could change things for casual dining spots: when you get an experience tailored to exactly what you want, you miss the curated experience of the chef and restaurant whose job it is to create an immersive experience.


  • James Beard Awards: all of the winners — James Beard Foundation
  • Shameless plug alert! A great recap of last week’s food + technology panel in SF — SF Weekly
  • Do this: apply to be a part of Food+Tech Connect’s Hack//Dining event in New York —  Food+Tech Connect
  • ICYMI: Have we reached peak food delivery startup? — Me, on Medium

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