— Kristen Hawley
This edition of the Chefs+Tech newsletter was sent on June 19, 2017. Subscribe to get the latest delivered directly to your inbox.
Did You Really Need to Fly Around the World to Figure This Out, Pete Wells?
When New York Times critic Pete Wells announced he’d be reviewing non-New York restaurants, it felt like a nod to the Times’ appeal and readership around the world. It also felt like good business, since non-New York restaurants can certainly influence the industry as a whole. Recently, Wells traveled to Sydney in search of what’s new and notable in the city (and came up with five spots worth visiting). He also penned a piece about his overall experience that’s a little… behind the times. Chef travel and exploration has always been an important part of the culinary industry. Inspiration, new ingredients, and a broader vision of dishes continue to help the industry innovate and move forward. Wells acknowledges this, and also adds it’s in no small part thanks to Instagram. Social media connects kitchens around the world quickly, especially when chefs don’t have the time to travel. And beyond that, it provides a look into kitchens that even well-traveled chefs may not necessarily have access to. “Even chefs who stay put keep current on cooking trends from abroad on Instagram. One result is that many dishes in unrelated restaurants in different cities now share a common visual style,” he writes. Of course it has.
While the homogenization of food and restaurant offerings may be more pronounced when one travels halfway around the world only to find similar tastes and service, it’s hardly a surprise. Trends are traveling with rapid pace around the world and discussions of cultural appropriation of food are at the forefront of news coverage. Ideas of ownership of dishes and recipes and ideas are changing as photos and descriptions of dishes fly around online. People are seeking out new and unique restaurants and experiences as the concept of a restaurant is challenged through travel, pop-ups, delivery, and technology.
Subway Bets Technology Can Help It Compete
Once the darling of the sandwich-eating masses, Subway has been completely overtaken in the market by newer fast-casual and fast food chains that have made bigger investments in technology. The sandwich chain recently announced the new tech that will come to its stores, including touch-screen ordering and a mobile app to stay competitive. The classic store layout we’ve come to understand will likely change too; the company is testing out spaces dedicated to mobile pickup in some stores and given the trajectory of the fast food industry (looking at you, McDonald’s+UberEats), I’m betting it’ll take off.
But what does Subway have going for it, really? Once considered the healthy option among fast food options, its allure has gone way, way down. Although Subway has the most locations of any chain restaurant in the US, its sales have fallen significantly over the past three years. A complete digital overhaul at this point could be too little, too late as its competitors already bask in their own technological success. (Panera’s digital sales totaled 26 percent of its total sales in the first quarter of 2017, for example.) Still, slow-to-adopt is likely better than not adopting at all, so we’ll have to see how this one plays out.
How Amazon’s Whole Foods Purchase Could Affect Restaurants
Unless you were hiding under a rock on Friday, you know that Amazon purchased Whole Foods for $13.4 billion. Amazon hasn’t disclosed its plans for the retailer beyond the fact that Whole Foods will continue to operate under its own name. Whole Foods had fallen on tough times recently due to lagging sales and difficulty pulling in new customers. The key, some thought, to a Whole Foods turnaround was its “foodie appeal” and prepared foods. Whole Foods cashed in on this appeal recently in Atlanta when it opened a fast-casual restaurant helmed by a well-known local chef.
The internet erupted over the news on Friday morning, with jokes and speculation and disbelief (even though this was rumored a few months ago. Yeah, I forgot about that, too.) Much of that speculation revolved around delivery logistics and Amazon’s now robust network of brick-and-mortar grocery locations. But a deal of this magnitude carries some potential weight for the restaurant industry, too. Amazon’s foray into the organic grocery business is also a foray into the fresh food and farming business. Imagine what Amazon could do for the future of organic farming, its distribution, its costs? Plus, what happens when you apply Amazon delivery logistics to Whole Foods’ prepared foods and potential future network of grocerants? Food delivery and logistics are hard, whether we’re talking about groceries or prepared dinner from a restaurant, but Amazon basically owns delivery logistics. This is all just speculation until we learn more about Amazon’s plans, but with such a massive acquisition in the food space, the company’s moves are sure to send ripples far into the industry.