The foodtech sector grew at a fast clip in the pandemic’s first year as restaurants turned to online-ordering tools, virtual brands, and ghost kitchens to reach consumers. But sunny skies turned stormy in 2022 as the restaurant industry faced headwinds tied to market volatility, a labor shortage, and record inflation.
Ghost kitchens, virtual brands, and online-ordering startups are now morphing to survive and stay relevant post-lockdown. Restaurant operators are looking for tech that improves profits through voice-ordering bots, kitchen automation, and tech that cracks the code of navigating third-party-delivery fees.
“The rising costs of supplies, labor, and rent, have put a squeeze on the foodservice industry’s already slim proﬁt margins,” CB Insights wrote in a September industry report. “With these challenges, investing in solutions that can boost proﬁt and increase eﬃciency is more important than ever.”
Insider’s 2022 list spotlights foodtech leaders who are helping restaurants take their digital business to the next level as they face a looming recession. They are working behind the scenes to help some of the industry’s most iconic companies, brands, and hospitality legends — such as José Andrés, Danny Meyer, Chipotle, Popeyes, DoorDash, Wendy’s, and Arby’s.
Like with last year’s inaugural list, Insider’s retail team selected winners based on nominations and our deep reporting on the sector. The editorial team focused on new nominees this year, so the list contains no repeats from the inaugural 2021 list, with the exception of two power players – authors Carl Orsbourn and Meredith Sandland. Both are being recognized this year for their roles in leading two separate tech endeavors.
Mallett, who cofounded ezCater in 2007, has shepherded the corporate-catering app through tough times since the onset of the pandemic. Traditional corporate-catering gigs collapsed during coronavirus lockdowns as employees began working remotely.
EzCater lost 85% of its revenue and was forced to let go 400 of its 900 employees, Mallett previously told Insider. Under her leadership, the company has tweaked its business model to provide meal solutions for companies that want to subsidize employee meals amid a growing hybrid-work environment.
That led to record restaurant growth on its app, which exceeded 100,000 restaurants and catering partners in September. Mallett said the company had seen 500% growth in corporate-account bookings year over year. The boost is coming from “organizations across all industries ranging from professional sports teams and national retailers to the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies,” she said.
“EzCater’s business is stronger than ever because food is an essential part of the workplace,” Mallett added. “It improves productivity, collaboration, and brings people together.”
EzCater received a $100 million investment from SoftBank in December, which allowed Mallett to hire aggressively this year when other foodtech startups were cutting staff. Today, ezCater has 800 employees. The company also plans to go public when market conditions are favorable.
Raising menu prices to offset delivery fees and increased labor and supply-chain costs are becoming common in the restaurant industry. Chipotle said pricing on delivery orders were up 13% in the third quarter year over year.
But “blanket price increases are no longer the best strategy,” Webb, the CEO and a cofounder of the dynamic-pricing startup Sauce, said.
The Los Angeles company uses machine learning to adjust menu prices on delivery orders based on supply and demand. It works similar to surge pricing on Uber. In fact, Kevin Novak, the coder who invented surge pricing for Uber, is a seed investor in Sauce.
Sauce’s machine-learning tech gleans volumes of consumer ordering data from a restaurant to train the platform to know when to increase or decrease prices — and by how much. Price adjustments are tailored from store to store.
“Now that you have the data, you have the technology to be able to have a different price for different periods of the day or different days of the week,” Webb, an MIT grad, said. “We’ve seen restaurants during a peak time raise their price 40%.”
Webb said Sauce, founded in 2020, was seeing more interest from restaurants willing to try dynamic pricing this year as they faced inflationary pressures and the prospect of a recession. He said the company worked with “hundreds” of restaurants and had “grown over 700% this year.”
Garner joined Chipotle from Starbucks in 2015. He’s turned Chipotle into a digital powerhouse by investing in technologies that make ordering frictionless for customers and preparing meals easier for employees.
For example, the company recently launched an artificial-intelligence-powered kitchen-management pilot program that alerts employees to how much food to prep when cooking. The system has “alleviated manual tasks for our crew and given restaurant managers the tools they need to make informed, in-the-moment decisions,” Garner told Insider.
Garner also oversees Cultivate Next, a $50 million venture fund launched by Chipotle in April to fast-track innovation at the company. Garner said Cultivate Next invested in startups “amplifying technology and innovation” whose missions align with Chipotle’s values.
In fall 2021, Garner tapped Hull, a veteran Chipotle tech leader, to manage the chain’s push into robotics. For Hull, the role is an extension of her longtime duties overseeing tech improvements in the kitchen, including the kitchen stations dedicated to fulfilling digital orders.
One of her most significant accomplishments this year was launching the first in-restaurant test of Chippy, a tortilla-chip-making robot by Miso Robotics. Hull said Chipotle’s first automated kitchen assistant allowed employees to work on more complex culinary and guest-facing tasks in the restaurant.
Hull said she’s also excited about new location-based tech in Chipotle’s app. Testing in 73 restaurants in Cleveland, the tech engages app-using customers upon arrival to the store by providing tailored messages such as order readiness, wrong pickup-location detection, and reminders to scan the Chipotle Rewards QR code at checkout.
Agarwal started ItsaCheckmate in 2016 as a check-splitting tool. But Agarwal shifted the company’s focus to helping restaurants fed up with third-party delivery tablets used to process orders.
The company allows restaurants to integrate multiple online-ordering platforms into a single point-of-sale system. ItsaCheckmate, whose rivals include Deliverect, Nextbite (formerly Ordermark), and Olo, serves more than 21,000 restaurant locations, including thousands of the Inspire-owned restaurants Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Sonic Drive-In. Inspire is an investor in the company.
This year, ItsaCheckmate added 6,000 Wendy’s restaurants, which boosted the company’s ability to compete for the business of large-scale chains, Agarwal said. More importantly, the Wendy’s partnership helped make the company profitable for the first time, he said.
ItsaCheckmate also expanded its tech stack to help operators improve the freshness of delivery orders by sending them to the kitchen when a third-party delivery driver gets close to the restaurant.
Zucker is a New York marketing executive and partner at Branded Hospitality Ventures, a venture-capital firm cofounded by Michael Schatzberg and Jimmy Frischling.
This year, Zucker oversaw the launch of the foodtech-insights podcast “Hospitality Hangout” and Boom, an online marketplace that connects operators with best-in-class foodtech companies.
Early in her career, Zucker also helped Branded test tech solutions at the company’s string of New York restaurants, including the piloting of GoParrot and Bbot. Bbot, a software company that allows for mobile orders and paying at the table, was bought by DoorDash in March. GoParrot, a digital-ordering and marketing platform for restaurants, was bought by Square in May.
Zucker’s role in testing technologies at Branded restaurants led to the company creating its own VC arm to invest in startups that solve problems for restaurants. Since launching in 2018, Branded Hospitality Ventures has invested more than $30 million in about 40 foodtech startups.
“I have built a marketing platform at Branded with the message that technology is medicine for operators and gold for investors,” Zucker said. “A tech stack for restaurant operators is no longer a nice-to-have but a need-to-have.”
While other foodtech companies were downsizing and laying off dozens of employees in mid-2022, the ghost-kitchen pioneer Kitchen United was securing investment deals from some of the biggest names in retail.
Kitchen United raised $100 million over the summer. The Series C round included backing from nontraditional investors in the space such as Kroger, Circle K, the mall operator Simon Property Group, and the Burger King owner Restaurant Brands International.
“Over the last two years, we’ve grown revenue by over 1,000% and expanded our footprint to 18 facilities that tout over 200 kitchens,” Montagano said.
The CEO was leading growth at Kitchen United as rivals such as Reef Technology were cutting staff and downsizing operations. Restaurant Brands International ended its partnership with Reef this year and invested in Kitchen United.
“The most noteworthy aspect of this fundraise is all new investors — Kroger, Circle K, Simon, and RBI are commercially synergistic to our business,” Montagano said.
Montagano’s work with Kroger and Restaurant Brands International has proved lucrative in other ways.
In November, RBI opened a hybrid ghost kitchen in Miami using Kitchen United’s software, which allows consumers to bundle items from multiple menus in one order. Kitchen United is also opening multiple delivery-focused digital food halls inside Kroger supermarkets in Los Angeles, Dallas, Indianapolis, Houston, and Columbus, Ohio.
“These outlets provide easy pickup or delivery points, while giving customers a convenient way to pick up groceries for the week, along with a made-to-order dinner for the night,” he said.
The tech entrepreneurs Baggott and McFadden cofounded the ghost-kitchen startup ClusterTruck in 2016 to improve third-party delivery. The startup is profitable, and its proprietary software allows customers to order from multiple delivery-only brands at once.
More importantly, the system helps ensure that food always arrives hot, as it signals to cooks when delivery drivers are close to the restaurant. This year, Baggott, McFadden, and the restaurant strategist Sandland teamed up to license ClusterTruck’s delivery-management software under the company Empower Delivery.
“The technology is too good to be kept to just one brand,” Sandland, the CEO of Empower, said.
McFadden, the chief technology officer of the firm, said Empower would teach restaurants that delivery was possible if you had the right tools. Empower Delivery will launch in 2023 with newly signed operators who are licensing the software to manage direct orders, as well as third-party deliveries, Sandland said.
The way diners order food has vastly changed over the past few years, from mobile-order pickup in the drive-thru lane to scanning a QR code at the table. But phone ordering has remained largely unchanged for a large portion of the fast-food industry, especially at pizza chains.
Tech companies like ConverseNow are swiftly reshaping how restaurants take phone orders by automating the order-taking process with AI-powered virtual assistants.
Shukla, who cofounded ConverseNow in 2018, said it’s serving restaurants “struggling against an industrywide labor shortage.”
“2022 has been a transformative year for scaling our business,” Shukla told Insider.
ConverseNow’s tech is live in more than 1,250 stores across 43 states. That’s a more than 30% store-count increase compared with last year. Its clients include Domino’s, Blake’s Lotaburger, and Fazoli’s, as well as a number of the nation’s top 100 fast-food brands, which are under confidentiality agreements, the company said.
“Partnering restaurants have seen up to 25% same-store-sales growth after switching to ConverseNow,” Shukla said.
ConverseNow can boost sales because automated bots take limitless orders at once and upsell on every order, according to the company.
Despite VC funding slowing down in the foodtech space, ConverseNow nearly doubled its funding this year, which hovers around $35 million, the company said.
This year, ConverseNow took its voice AI one step further by testing the tech at the drive-thru. Shukla said significant expansion was expected in 2023, which “will be a breakout year for our category.”
“We’re also leveraging our AI to completely reinvent the modern-day drive-thru and are excited to unveil more details about this project down the road,” he said. “With so many brands clamoring for voice to power their drive-thru and phone channels, mainstream consumer adoption is imminent.”
Barnett opened the first Hungry House in Brooklyn, New York, in November 2021. The startup takes advantage of the booming creator economy by working with “digitally native chefs” who are food influencers on social-media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
“Hungry House is the first direct-to-consumer ghost-kitchen company that works directly with online food creators,” Barnett said. “The creator economy is large and growing; we believe there needs to be more solutions for chefs and people in the food industry who are building passionate followings to be able to monetize their audience.”
Hungry House offers these influencer recipes under one menu, available for delivery or walk-up ordering via kiosk. A year later, in November, a second Hungry House opened on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Before launching Hungry House, Barnett held leadership roles at the ghost-kitchen startup Zuul and the New York-based healthy fast-casual chain Dig.
After coauthoring the book “Delivering the Digital Restaurant,” Orsbourn has become a go-to foodtech expert for an industry learning how to thrive in a digital economy.
He and his coauthor, Empower’s Sandland, also recognized on this list for her work with Empower Delivery, parlayed that fame into a foodtech-news podcast called “‘The Monday Minute.”
Next year, Orsbourn said he and Sandland are releasing a sequel to their book, where they tackle “the path to digital maturity” and how to rethink business models to accommodate delivery growth.
Orsbourn has spoken at 25 restaurant events this year. But he isn’t all talk. He walks the walk when it comes to restaurant innovation. This year, he cofounded the dynamic-pricing startup Juicer, where he is the chief operating officer.
Juicer offers dynamic pricing, meaning it offers a range of prices for certain menu items based on demand. Juicer is beta testing with brands such as Bar Taco, so results are too early to publish, Orsbourn said.
But amid soaring inflation, one thing is clear, he said: “Dynamic pricing is helping restaurants make more informed choices around pricing at a time when prices are only heading one way.”
Thinagar’s team is preparing to meet Olo’s goal of “digital entirety,” or the moment when every restaurant transaction is digital. Olo’s digital-ordering tools cover all restaurant transactions, including delivery, drive-thru, table service, and takeout.
Since starting at Olo in October 2021, Thinagar has been expanding Olo’s platform to include operator solutions for challenges tied to labor, inflation, and supply chains, she told Insider.
One of those solutions is Olo Pay, a platform that allows customers to save and access their credit-card-payment information without creating an account or remembering a password. Think of it as a mobile wallet that will enable diners to speed through the checkout process, Thinagar said.
“Olo Pay goes beyond basic credit-card-processing functionality to provide restaurants with modern capabilities that improve the payment experience for them and their guests,” she said. “Olo Pay drives higher conversion rates, improved authorization rates, and streamlined reporting.”
This year, Thinagar’s team also introduced a feature that automatically adjusts online-order wait times based on conditions inside a restaurant.
“For example, if more than a certain number of items have been fired to the kitchen in a five-minute period, Olo will detect that activity and push back the promise times provided to guests until the rush subsides,” she said.
The tool helps optimize operations and ensure customers are getting fresh food at the time they expect.
Nigam, a food-service veteran, cofounded Franklin Junction in 2020. It was one of the first ghost-kitchen startups to tweak the traditional rent-a-kitchen model, where restaurants rent spaces from ghost-kitchen facilities. The company, instead, matches underused restaurant kitchens, which it calls “host kitchens,” with brands looking for rapid expansion through delivery.
A host kitchen makes money using its extra kitchen space to cook food. Franklin Junction owns the revenue from each sale and pays stakeholders their cuts.
“We’re paying the brands a royalty or a license fee,” he told Insider in an earlier interview. “We’re paying the host kitchens a portion to cook the food.”
This year, Franklin Junction exceeded 1,000 host kitchens, typically small-to-midsize restaurant chains, hotels, family-entertainment centers, and grocery stores.
It works with about 30 brands seeking to expand their delivery footprint, such as Nathan’s Famous, Hooters, and David Chang’s Fuku. As an example, Nigam expanded Nathan’s Famous to more than 80 delivery locations this year. On average, the startup said it adds about 13% incremental revenue for its host-kitchen partners.
There’s a glut of online-food-ordering solutions in the restaurant industry. But Snackpass adds a social-media twist that is capturing the attention of a slew of celebrities and high-profile tech entrepreneurs, including the Jonas Brothers, Kevin Hart’s venture fund HartBeat Ventures, the record producer Steve Aoki, and the Postmates founder Bastian Lehmann.
Snackpass is a Venmo-inspired app that allows customers to order food for takeout. Customers, typically college students, publicly share their favorite meals, gift foods to friends, and earn and share rewards points. Instead of focusing on delivery, it focuses on pickup orders because those native orders return higher profits.
“Our model puts restaurants first,” Marshall, a Snackpass cofounder and its chief operating officer, said. She is responsible for sales and market growth across the US.
To date, the company has raised more than $90 million. The Gen Z-focused app can be found in more than 40 college markets, including the University of Michigan, Yale, Brown, and the University of California, Berkeley.
“Every purchase on Snackpass leads to the potential for a new customer,” Marshall told Insider.
Looking ahead, Marshall said Snackpass planned to focus on growth in existing markets, while expanding to metropolitan areas, including San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles.
Kashani has been leading Serve Robotics since it launched in 2017 as a division of Postmates. A year later, Serve’s autonomous delivery robots hit the streets of Los Angeles.
After Uber bought Postmates in 2020, Kashani spearheaded the spinoff of Serve as an independent company.
The ride-hailing giant is a minority investor in Serve, which this year expanded its self-driving bots in Los Angeles by partnering with Uber Eats. That expansion is the “holy grail for robotics transportation,” as it means “robots can operate without humans in the loop,” Kashani said.
Serve’s advancements this year have led to pilot programs with Pizza Hut Canada, Walmart, and 7-Eleven. Kashani is pushing for more enterprise partnerships. He recently hired Prahar Shah, who helped DoorDash scale in the early days of the delivery wars, as the company’s first chief revenue officer. Shah plans to use the DoorDash growth playbook to make Serve a dominant force in robotic food delivery.
For more than three years, Le has been the chief information officer at Checkers & Rally’s, the parent company of roughly 800 Checkers Drive-In and Rally’s restaurants. This year, he took on a considerable challenge: innovating the drive-thru experience, which is a main driver of the company’s sales.
He tackled labor shortages by leaping into introducing AI-powered voice bots at the drive-thru. Implementing the tech helped “to streamline work for employees and make their jobs more doable and enjoyable,” Le told Insider.
Checkers & Rally’s said it became one of the first large restaurant companies to implement widespread use of AI-powered voice assistants. Out of the total 803 Checkers & Rally’s restaurants, voice AI is live in 280. Popeyes and Panera Bread also launched testing of drive-thru voice bots this year using tech by OpenCity.
Checkers & Rally’s is using two tech providers, Presto and Valyant AI. ConverseNow, whose leader is another power player, is testing voice bots at drive-thru lanes as well.
The drive-thru tech automates multiple drive-thru tasks, including taking customer orders, reciting the ingredients for menu items upon request, repeating back the orders, providing check totals, and alerting customers if a product is unavailable.
“Not only did this alleviate staffing pressures and reduce employee turnover, but it also provided a consistent and friendly customer experience,” Le told Insider.
When the foodtech firm Toast purchased the inventory-management company XtraChef in 2021, the timing couldn’t have been better for the restaurants that use the payment-processing platform. A year later, the newly named platform, XtraChef by Toast, is helping Toast operators manage rising commodity prices tied to record-high inflation rates.
XtraChef, founded in 2015 by Schwartz and Patel, is a menu-management tool that helps restaurants analyze food costs. After Toast bought XtraChef, Schwartz, Patel, and Sharma combined Toast’s point-of-sale data with XtraChef’s inventory data to provide insights on which menu items were more profitable.
“We are able to give restaurants an automated end-to-end view of their financial health that helps them better understand operating expenses and profitability, down to the menu item,” Schwartz told Insider. “I’m most proud of how our solution is able to help our restaurant customers in such a meaningful way, given the climate they’re operating in right now.”
The chef José Andrés’ restaurant group, ThinkFoodGroup, Chopt, By Chloe, and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group are among several restaurant groups that use XtraChef.
When Siddiqui became president of Popeyes in September 2020, digital sales were “virtually zero,” he told Insider.
Today, digital sales at Popeyes represent nearly 20% of the chains total sales. Siddiqui, who previously led Restaurant Brands International’s Asia-Pacific business, said new “digital-forward” initiatives are making Popeyes more accessible to consumers.
Under his leadership, Popeyes has invested in new restaurant formats geared for delivery and takeout orders, including smaller format stores and expansion through ghost kitchens. Digital walk-up stores, for example, feature kiosks for self-ordering (no cash registers) and mobile order pickup shelves.
Popeyes also said it is stepping up access by building more restaurants with double-drive-thru lanes. More than 50% of new restaurants in the pipeline in the US and globally will include double drive-thrus, the company said, declining to provide more details.
“One of my primary focuses is growth and expansion, as guests consistently identify convenience as a barrier to more frequent visitation,” Siddiqui told Insider. “Simply put, in order for our guests to enjoy Popeyes whenever and wherever they want it, we need more restaurants, and we need to be more digital-forward.”
So far, the response to new digital and growth initiatives has been encouraging.
“This industry-leading restaurant growth combined with the success of game-changing products like the Chicken Sandwich, have allowed Popeyes to grow total system sales from $3 billion to nearly $5 billion over the past five years,” he said.
Average unit volumes per store, or AUVs, have increased from $1.4 million in 2020 to $1.8 million in 2022.
GoTab is one of the more established foodtech companies on our list. Cofounded by McLaughlin in 2016, GoTab was an early disruptor in restaurant mobile payments. The company created the tech long before the pandemic forced restaurants to adopt contactless order-and-pay technologies.
GoTab’s QR codes allow diners to order and pay with their phones at restaurants, bars, hotels, and stadiums.
Under McLaughlin, GoTab has expanded its platform to include solutions that help restaurants be even more efficient.
The company now offers a kitchen display system, which allows restaurants to control the flow of orders sent to the kitchen to ensure operations run smoothly.
Meanwhile, another innovation, GoTab Pass, uses radio-frequency identification technology to let customers pay by tapping a key card or wristband.
“An example of using this at a hotel would be guests using a key card to charge dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, drinks at the hotel’s bar, and coffee from the hotel’s coffee shop all to one open tab,” GoTab said.
The company’s tech also integrates restaurant solutions used by its clients through open application programming interfaces, including the self-pouring tech PourMyBeer, the labor-management platform 7shifts, and the recipe-management tool Meez.
“While the pandemic accelerated QR-code adoption and, as a result, drove sales for our business, it really was a catalyst for reexamining how technology can improve the hospitality experience overall,” McLaughlin said.
Nagy’s year-old startup, Tablz, redefines reservation dining through dynamic pricing.
As Nagy sees it, if airlines upcharge for window seats, why can’t restaurants do the same for the most popular tables in a dining room? Nagy is taking a metaverse approach with Tablz, which provides customers with a 3D tour of a restaurant through its website. The platform allows a diner to envision themselves at a precise table before making a booking, he said.
“I think it is the best case use of metaverse technology,” he said. “So many people are afraid that the metaverse will cause us to one day be limited in true human interaction. We think it can be used to make real-world experiences even better.”
To date, Tablz has logged about 7,000 reservations this year at about 100 restaurants, the company said. Reservations are booked directly on the websites of the restaurants.
“We strategically started with one point of entry because we knew that guests accessing a restaurant website are the ideal clientele,” the company told Insider.
Nagy said Tablz, which he refers to as a “digital concierge,” also worked with reservation platforms such as Resy and OpenTable.
Correction: November 29, 2022— An earlier version of this story misstated the number of restaurants Tablz partners with and the amount of reservations Tablz has booked. To date, Tablz has logged about 7,000 reservations this year at about 100 restaurants, the company said.
Davis, a restaurant operator, cofounded the inventory-management company MarginEdge in 2015. He serves as its CEO.
When Davis owned the conveyor-belt sushi restaurant Wasabi, he came up with the idea for MarginEdge. He said he grew tired of being “stuck doing manual invoice data entry and inventory in a tiny closet in the back of a kitchen.”
So he assembled a team of restaurant operators and tech entrepreneurs to develop software that reduces inventory-management time from hours to two to three minutes.
According to the company, MarginEdge’s recipe tool lets restaurants know exactly how much each plate costs and tracks changes in ingredient prices. That information gives managers insights to take immediate action on pricing.
“MarginEdge uses technology and a team of real people to identify any handwritten notes or changes on the invoice, even if it’s stained with tomato sauce,” Davis said. “As former restaurant operators ourselves, we designed the product with an unmatched level of empathy, capturing all the nuances of running a restaurant.”
Today, MarginEdge is used by nearly 4,000 restaurants, including Mellow Mushroom, Clyde’s, Burger 21, Sunday in Brooklyn, The Honey Baked Ham Co., and the Cracker Barrel-owned Maple Street Biscuit Co.
Kiesel runs a restaurant-oil-management company that works with some of the biggest chains in fast food – McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Shake Shack, to name a few. Yet fry-loving consumers most likely don’t know how Restaurant Technologies is helping their favorite restaurant chain save the planet.
Kiesel, Restaurant Technologies’ CEO since 2005, has led the firm into partnerships that turn used cooking oil into biodiesel. The effort, in partnership with Chevron’s Renewable Energy Group, helps food-service companies working with Restaurant Technologies to reach their sustainability goals.
“We have partnered with Chevron REG to recycle the cooking oil we collect from our customers to utilize as a feedstock to produce biodiesel and renewable diesel,” Kiesel said, adding that the process took 24 hours.
Earlier this year, Kiesel said one of his biggest accomplishments was launching a pilot program at its Des Moines, Iowa, facility, where the biodiesel and renewable diesel are being used to power Restaurant Technologies’ commercial fleet of vehicles.
“We now deliver fresh cooking oil to a restaurant, collect the restaurant’s used oil, and then recycle it to fuel our trucks,” he said. “This is just another step in our sustainability journey for us and our customers.”
In 2021, Restaurant Technologies said it recycled 269.9 million pounds of cooking oil from 33,000 restaurant locations.
Simoni is a new product leader at DoorDash, but his power-player status is cemented by how he landed the role at the nation’s No. 1 food delivery company.
In 2016, Simoni started Bbot, an overhead ceiling robot designed to deliver drinks behind the bar. In 2018, Bbot shifted its focus to online-ordering solutions for restaurants, such as using QR codes for ordering and paying at the table.
Dozens of contactless-ordering solutions are on the market, but Bbot caught the attention of the industry disruptor DoorDash. In March, the delivery operator bought Bbot, and the company’s tools are being bundled with DoorDash products geared toward restaurants.
“We are seeing increased adoption because of the scale of DoorDash and because more and more restaurants are switching to a more tech-forward model,” Simoni said.
As senior director of product management in the restaurant-services department at DoorDash, Simoni said he’s responsible for creating products and services that help restaurant owners run and grow their businesses.
“The team is working day and night to bring impactful solutions to enable restaurants to run more efficiently,” he said.
Wood, the CEO of Picnic Works, believes most of today’s automation focuses on delivery, order management, and kitchen operations.
“Very little tech actually touches food,” he told Insider.
That’s where Wood hopes to change the narrative, through Picnic. The Seattle startup, founded in 2016, develops automated food-assembly solutions for every sector of the food-service industry, from pizzerias and sports venues to college dining halls.
“With increased labor shortages and high food costs associated with food waste, technology that actually improves food production in a restaurant saves time, money, and labor from day one,” Wood said. “Picnic is driving a new way of thinking about food automation that creates predictability and reduces waste while innovating the future of food service.”
The company’s automated food-assembly solutions are used by indie pizza parlors, food-service-management companies such as Compass and Sodexo Live, and Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, the largest franchisee of Domino’s.
Picnic’s automation equipment can also be found inside venues such as T-Mobile Park, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and on Texas A&M University dining halls.
In August, Picnic scored one of its biggest deals when it announced plans to supply automated pizza stations to Speedy Eats, an automated drive-thru-restaurant concept set to open locations in 2023. Picnic’s pizza stations can assemble up to 100 pizzas in an hour.
Picnic is supplying Speedy Eats with 5,000 automated pizza-assembly stations over the next five years in a deal valued at $800 million.
“Speedy Eats is rethinking food production and delivery, and we’re thrilled that they chose Picnic to provide the automated pizza equipment that will help them scale, delight customers, and increase profitability,” Wood said at the time of the deal.
When Morcos was 15, he didn’t mow lawns to make extra cash. He bought and resold used mobile phones. That was the start of a budding career providing mobile equipment to clients.
Years later, in 2011, he launched Social Mobile inside a friend’s garage. Social Mobile offers clients custom-designed mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and kiosks. As a result of the pandemic, Social Mobile is seeing greater adoption of mobile devices in the restaurant and healthcare sectors, Morcos said in a recent “The Restless Ones” podcast episode.
DoorDash is one of its biggest restaurant clients. The delivery operator turned to Social Mobile in 2021 as it was rapidly growing. Social Mobile was one of the only mobile-device suppliers to meet DoorDash’s demand for tablets amid supply-chain challenges over the past year, the company told Insider.
Morcos said enterprise-grade devices, as opposed to “consumer-grade” tablets, were tailor-made for a business environment, with features that include longer battery life and durability. In the case of DoorDash, the tablets are made to withstand a “rugged” kitchen setting, he said.
“Consumer-grade devices are devices originally made for use by consumers and for consumer-type environments,” Morcos said. “They were not originally designed to be rugged and used in harsh kitchen environments to withstand moisture and spills.”
The average tablet, made for DoorDash’s delivery operation, automatically configures itself and takes less than 10 minutes to set up per restaurant, the company said.
Today, Social Mobile helps DoorDash support about 500,000 restaurants and retailers on its platform. It’s a proud accomplishment for Morcos.
“We were able to provide them a more scalable solution that can grow their business during the pandemic,” he said on the podcast.
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