Augmented Reality Bites

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Virtual food hall, meet the augmented-reality restaurant menu. You’ll soon be best friends.

Hear me out.

Over these last few weeks, multiple news bites around virtual food halls have surfaced. These food halls are collections of restaurants that exist online and where meals are only available for delivery and pickup. They are in many ways a natural effect of the pandemic shutting down dining rooms and the restaurant biz going off-premises.

The latest one comes from Lunchbox. This week, the company integrated its online digital order platform into C3’s virtual restaurant brand ecosystem to bring a bunch of different delivery-only eateries under one virtual umbrella.

Being able to order a plant-based burger, chicken, and maybe a rice dish through a single digital interface sounds great until you zero in on that word digital. One of the potential problems with this new wave of virtual food halls is that customers will never have the chance to actually visit these restaurants in person. Your introduction to their food comes in the form of 2D thumbnails you have to scroll through on your phone and squint at to even get an inkling of what you’re about to order. If you’re familiar with the restaurant that’s less of an issue, but most virtual food halls and brands are new, and ordering from them is something of a culinary gamble.

Enter augmented reality (AR), a technology some say is the next great innovation for restaurant menus. Modern Restaurant Management ran a piece this week exploring the possibility of customers using their own smartphones to display 3D models of the food they are about to order. With AR, instead of a small, flat, 2D image, a user could “see” how the dish looks on their table, zoom in on it and view it from multiple angles to get a much better idea of what they’re about to buy.

I should note that the Modern Restaurant Management Post was authored by Mike Cadoux of augmented reality platform QReal. In other words, Cadoux’s has skin in the AR game.

But he makes a good point when it comes to thinking about AR in the context of the new off-premises reality in which restaurants now operate: “Early adoption of AR was hindered by the problem of getting the experience to the customer. People are loath to download apps, and delivery platforms had to service thousands of restaurants, most of which wouldn’t have access to 3D models. Now a restaurant or brand can push their own content to the customer. They would be wise to utilize all the smartphones capabilities and showcase their food with the next-generation of content.”

Spoon Editor Chris Albrecht actually spoke with Cadoux back in August, when QReal released a study with Oxford University’s Saïd Business School that found participants were more likely to order an item if they could view options in AR. “It’s like a test drive for a car,” Cadoux told The Spoon at the time. “Same way when you buy food, you want to think about what it’s like to eat it.”

The tech makes especially good sense for virtual food halls. As I said, these restaurants do not have dining rooms, so customers are relying solely on the digital realm to learn about the food. If, for the sake of argument, Lunchbox and C3 were to integrate AR into their ordering platform, they could better showcase the “fine dining” aspects of their food and in doing so make their meals more appetizing. Everyone else, from Zuul’s virtual-only sandwich chain to Steve Aoki’s pizza brand, could also reap the benefits of AR in the virtual restaurant realm.

AR is not yet mainstream, and its presence in the restaurant industry is still largely forthcoming. But since one pandemic year seems equal to five normal ones, an AR-powered food hall may be closer than we think.

Uber Engineer Says “No” to Uber’s Prop. 22

Californians, take note. One of the things those in the Golden State will vote on come November is Prop. 22, a $180 million ballot measure that would allow third-party delivery services to classify drivers as independent contractors. The measure would effectively override California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which was signed into law last year and dictates that Uber, Grubhub, and other gig-economy companies must classify drivers and couriers as employees.

Classifying them as independent contractors means delivery drivers would lack access to workers comp., paid sick leave, and other benefits W-2 employees receive. It goes without saying that a lot of folks are against Prop. 22. One of them is an employee at Uber.

Kurt Nelson, who’s been a software engineer at Uber since 2018, penned an op-ed at TechCrunch this week that argues drivers should be classified as employees. Nelson, who still makes deliveries for app-based companies in order to understand the gig economy, writes that Uber “refuses to obey” AB5 and instead prefers to “write a new set of rules for themselves” with Prop. 22.

Among many other notable lines, there was also this gem about the gig economy: “I’ve met drivers who have to sleep in their cars, risk financial ruin over a single doctor’s appointment or go without life-saving medication. There’s no way around it. Uber’s Prop 22 is a multi-million effort to deny these workers their rights.”

You can read the piece in its entirety here. Uber has yet to make any public response to Nelson’s op-ed, so stay tuned.

Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web

Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins has stepped down to “focus on personal endeavors,” according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Collins played a major role in turning KU into one of the leaders of the ghost kitchen space. Michael Montagano, KU’s former chief financial officer and treasurer, has been named CEO.

Mobile POS platform GoTab launched an integration with hospitality labor management system 7shifts. The combined offering gives restaurant owners/operators the ability to view sales and labor data from the same interface.

Meal prep software company Meallogix announced a partnership with DoorDash this week. A press release sent to The Spoon notes that the deal gives Meallogix’ customers the option of using the third-party delivery service to manage their routes for the last mile of delivery.

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