In an age of technology and get-it-now, it seems counterintuitive that fast food would slow down service, but that’s what’s happening as the industry adopts fresh ingredients and made-to-order meals.
— Kristen Hawley
This edition of the Chefs+Tech newsletter was sent on June 21, 2017. Subscribe to get the latest delivered directly to your inbox.
Is It Still Fast Food When It’s No Longer Fast?
I hesitate to call this a trend because it’s a pretty universal move toward healthier living, but over recent months several fast food chains have made major announcements about switching to fresh (versus frozen) food or higher quality ingredients. But the thing about fast food is that it’s predicated on the basis that you receive your food fast. This is why frozen ingredients and heat lamps and mass production and quality control exist in the industry — to give you a predictable product, quickly. As consumers become more conscious about their food, fast food is evolving to meet demands, but some consumers may not understand the tradeoff. For example, McDonald’s has started using fresh beef cooked to order in its Quarter Pounder burgers. Great, right? Except the service flow is disrupted if you order one of these sandwiches; in the drive-through, customers are asked to park their car while the burger is made. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, having to wait an extra three minutes in the car for any part of my Happy Meal was pure torture.
According to a Reuters report, the new Quarter Pounder takes about a minute longer to arrive than the previous version. A minute isn’t long when you’re sitting down at a full-service restaurant, but adding a full minute to drive-through times is significant, and messaging to the consumer about what to expect is tricky. Still, more options (especially of the healthier variety) are welcome, and many of the chain’s other offerings haven’t changed and arrive with the same speed we’ve come to expect from the most famous fast food restaurant in the country. Still… what does it mean when slowing down service — even for good reasons — changes the basic notion of fast food?
Delivery Apps Aren’t Hurting In-Store Visits
As the battle between delivery apps rages on, analysts are keeping a close eye on what adoption and usage of these services means for brick-and-mortar restaurants. According to one recent report, delivery apps do not lead to significant drops in in-store restaurant traffic. Instead, consumers are using them in tandem with in-store visits. If anything, by this measure at least, restaurant delivery apps should be analyzed against grocery store visits and delivery services.
This could also signal that consumers think differently about restaurant delivery versus in-restaurant dining experiences. This is also good news for restaurants that notoriously work hard to protect the in-store experience and may be potentially hesitant to cede control to a delivery driver.
Instagram Stories Is Perfect for Restaurants (And Growing Like Crazy.)
Instagram’s Stories feature is now used by 250 million people per month, adding 50 million users in two months. Stories have become a more casual way for Instagrammers to share snapshots and video, adding text, stickers, and drawings. They’re fun and they’re fleeting — all stories disappear after 24 hours. Yes, this is exactly like Snapchat, which only has 166 million active users.
The Stories feature has changed the way many people use Instagram. The traditional feed is reserved for more curated and composed images while Stories serves as a catch-all for everything else. The feature lends itself to food and restaurants particularly well in a couple of ways. For example, a restaurant can meticulously curate its Instagram feed, featuring composed, plated, well-lit, well-styled dishes and use Stories to give a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen or the staff or the ingredients or anything that goes into day-to-day restaurant workings that might not seem refined enough to land on the main feed.
Rene Redzepi used this feature particularly well during Noma Mexico’s run last month; every day he introduced followers to different local produce he and his staff were including in the meal. Restaurant review site The Infatuation uses Stories to post “restaurant review ride-alongs” which is a fun and engaging twist on the traditional review. While it may seem like a lot of work for something that disappears in 24 hours, the beauty of Stories is that it’s meant to be off-the-cuff and less composed. It’s a great tool for a business’s marketing and social engagement efforts, and also great as restaurant patrons share photos of their meals conveniently geotagged with a restaurant’s name and location. And it seems with Facebook’s backing and Instagram’s highly-engaged users, there’s still a ton of room for growth.
David Chang on Failure
In a world of celebrity chefs and Yelp reviews and Instagram photos and text messages and all of the good and bad that comes with the modern restaurant experience, David Chang has been top of mind and tip-of-the-tongue for anyone who talks, thinks, or writes about the modern dining experience (this writer included). From my perspective, he is honest, open, and willing to discuss all aspects of the business publicly, including failure. He’s a prominent figure in the industry, so when Maple, the New York-based delivery-only startup he advised closed last month, the press jumped on his involvement. His response essentially boiled down to: sometimes things don’t work out but experimentation and growth is positive, which is an important thing to remember when every business venture is scrutinized, criticized, photographed, and shared under a microscope.
On a recent appearance on the Eater Upsell podcast, he continued the honesty, which is a fantastic commentary on the state of restaurants and technology. A few choice quotes:
- On Yelp: “I believe Yelp is probably going to be one of, if not the only, source of food criticism.”
- On Ando, his delivery-only restaurant: “We’re making the right kinds of mistakes and I’m fascinated by that, mainly because I love delivery, but also I know it has to work. The only way we’re going to get to that point is by trying new things and [messing] it up.”
- On failure and growth and iteration: “Unfortunately and fortunately, the good gets praised and the bad gets scrutinized. I want to make sure that doesn’t prevent us from trying more shit out. It pains me, more than you guys know, to let people down. It sucks, because no one’s a harsher critic than myself. But I can’t even imagine what Momofuku would be like if everything was perfect from the get go. That would scare the shit out of me.”