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11/16/2021

Food On Demand Was FIRE

Fresh energy, smart vibes fuel growth &possibility for restaurants.
a close up of a sign

Food On Demand (FOD) rocked Las Vegas last week, with an all-star turn-out of talent (mostly!) young, savvy entrepreneurial third-party delivery junkies, ghost kitchen power players and all flavors of innovative new business models, hungrier than ever for mindshare from an industry looking to swipe stomach share and capitalize on skyrocketing demand for food delivery anytime, anywhere, via any method imaginable.

When I first attended this conference back in 2019, it was modestly yet impressively tuning into all-things delivery. Just two short years later, it’s delivering the hottest topics in the trendiest segment of food service on the planet. Let’s just say my friend and editor Tom Kaiser knows how to throw a party. And by party, I mean a kick-ass event jam-packed with never-a-dull-moment content. Here are some key takeaways from the stage, as well as insights from those lucky enough to be there:

“How did El Pollo Loco do this (drone delivery) before Amazon and Google?” -Andrew Rebhun, VP Digital Officer, El Pollo Loco

El Pollo Loco Launches Drone Delivery

“We were 90% drive-thru before the pandemic. We are still 90% drive-thru with 10% digital. I’m not sure that inside dining is required anymore. This changes the design of the restaurant.” -Ryan Ostrom, EVP/CMO, Jack in the Box

"We're still fighting about data without a large-scale application on what to do with it. DSPs offer an extensive marketing opportunity. Supplement with first-party instead of trying to wrestle back data." (while I didn’t capture the exact quote, Vishal had one of the more controversial moments on stage when he stated that restaurants do not and should not own customer data, and that they wouldn’t know what to do with it if they had it. He believes the data belongs to the party capturing it, meaning the DSPs). -Vishal Agarwal, Founder & CEO, ItsaCheckmate

“Everything is moving to home delivery. We want to help market partners. We want to take surplus kitchen space; there is spare capacity. We are building additional topline for restaurants. We will constantly offer them different brands; we are very sensitive to skus.” -Robert Earl, President, Virtual Dining Concepts

“Virtual brands are not going away… Of the 700K restaurants (on its platform), 15K are virtual restaurants and growing.” -Yadavan Mahendraraj, Head of Merchant Operations, Uber Eats

“There’s a lot to automate and innovate and there are so many new companies emerging. It allows  lots of people in a certain slice of the space to become successful. That’s why there’s so much investment. When we see companies like Toast and others going public, $30B valuations with 40K restaurants, it’s not a huge chunk of the market share to get to those kinds of valuations. There’s a lot of opportunity… (new topic) "We need to ask ourselves: How can we make existing business profitably work on these existing (DSP) platforms? You have the ability to control what you place on your delivery menu. It's up to us to determine how to adjust to give up larger chunks. People are negotiating themselves out of SEO and marketing. How can you give up more and still have a business that's profitable?” -Alex Canter, CEO, Nextbite: Powered by Ordermark

“The coolest thing I saw was Matt Tucker (president & COO of Olo). Matt rarely comes to shows as he’s busy leading and growing Olo and I’ve always looked at him as a rational and extremely capable leader. I enjoy speaking with him very much and was super happy to see and speak with him at the show…” (quote from stage:) "When you layer an API on top of a turd, I don’t know how much value that provides. Can data move in two directions? What’s accessible there? Is it a fragile API? Is it a mature API? If anyone tells you you can’t have anything you want as a restaurant operator today technologically and you’re on top of a 15-year old POS, they’re actually lying. You can keep layering. But if you don’t actually have a highly functioning, rich API to consume that data, it’s all fairly useless. ...Buy me or buy someone else. But you need a unified platform." Niko Papademetriou, Senior VP Sales & Business Development, Qu POS

“We’re seeing restaurants with duplicative tech. Force tech to integrate so you're not moving data around in a painful way. Better to do that than to be techno-phobic.” -Hadi Rashid, Co-Founder, Lunchbox

"Delivery is incredibly tough to execute. It's about logistics. No one gets in the restaurant industry for logistics. As we understand how to do delivery, we will see a great decoupling between the marketplaces and delivery. We're gonna see restaurants owning the customer relationship and data, while continuing to use DSPs for delivery." -Corey Manicone, Co-Founder/CEO, Zuul (acquired by Kitchen United)

“At REEF, we are in the proximity business. We are building a lot of kitchens, but we do it where it makes sense, to help the economy, to help a (“food desert”) neighborhood. We’re here to serve a neighborhood, get food to people quicker, better and cheaper. Rather than if we were trying to deliver from 45 minutes away.” -Michael Beacham, President, REEF Technology

"Customer Lifetime Value in your DNA, even in real estate, is the most important metric and North Star to focus on. If people are coming back and more often, that's how you win." -Mike Vichich, VP & GM, Customer Engagement Products, Olo (former Co-Founder & CEO of Wisely)

“I was struck by the relative youth and energy of the participants, very different from most restaurant conferences. The content was spot on, drone delivery is pretty real. Fred’s (LeFranc) panel was my highlight: four seriously bright founders (Bikky, Lunchbox, Thanx & Snackpass) who see the world very differently from old guys like me. Totally refreshing. The future is exciting. I feel energized after my three days at that conference.” -Christopher Sebes, Restaurant Technology Strategist, Results Thru Strategy 

“What it actually means to be a restaurant will fundamentally shift in the next few years. We still bemoan the cost and impact of third-party delivery - though there’s now greater urgency given these services’ growth during the pandemic. We are still fighting to own and maintain the guest relationship - especially when their journey starts on a third-party platform. We are still wondering when (if?) drone delivery will become mainstream, but mostly because it’d be an assumed antidote to the high cost, labor intensive process of getting crispy fries from a kitchen to a couch in a timely manner. The most jaw-dropping comment came from a large brand CMO, who said “we are 90% drive thru and 10% digital - we might not need in-store anymore. If the costs of third-party delivery stay high and convenience is here to say, we may see a world where many traditional brands go all-in on ghost kitchens and small storefronts that are delivery + drive-thru only. There are implications here across real estate, food prep, labor, supply chain, menu planning, and customer experience that we haven't even grappled with yet. The idea of 'not needing in-store anymore' is a short, transformational statement on what it means to actually be a restaurant and serve guests in the future.”(quote from stage:) “Delivery providers are about click-to-mouth. Decide if you're a brand and have a direct relationship with your guest or if you’re a wholesaler, but decide. Don’t be in the middle, or you're going to be like JCPenney or Sears." -Abhinav Kapur, CEO, Bikky 

“I witnessed brands and tech providers eager to break down the walls that have traditionally defined 'What is a restaurant' and further explore every iteration of virtual, whether it’s brand, food production or meal enjoyment location (delivery, curbside, lockers, etc). Compared to the event I attended in Chicago a few years back, there was a maturation from third-party delivery companies of their 'place' within the restaurant industry as opposed to setting themselves on a throne. Still some contention, but healthier than FOD2019. My favorite session was hosted by Carl Orsbourn, entitled Research & Insight on a Shifting Market. Ariane Turley from YipitData and Andrew Custage from Sense360 dazzled us with relevant data and graphical imagery that helped the audience absorb rich analytics. Loved the event!” -Robert Peterson, Area VP, New Business, North America, Oracle Food and Beverage

"Robert Earl (of Virtual Dining Concepts) pointed out that 'we are in the infancy of ghost kitchens' and I for one am extremely excited for what's to come.” -Geoff Alexander, President & CEO, Wow Bao

"After hearing such incisive comments from so many different perspectives on the restaurant's rights to customer data from DSP orders, I walked away from #FOD2021 with much greater clarity on this divisive issue. It's not merely about restaurants getting access to customer data; it's about restaurants being able to offer personalized, branded experiences to new customers gained from DSP channels. As Ordermark's CEO Alex Canter explained, "Restaurants are negotiating away their ability to market to new customers." -Tim Tang, Director, Enterprise Solutions, Hughes Network Systems

“The entire space boils down to customer data and customer experience vs expectations. There were many conflicting viewpoints of who owned the customer and their data. The goal of the industry should be to morph into a truly symbiotic relationship. 'Transparency' was very rarely mentioned. Customers don't know who is making their food and restaurants don't know who is eating their food. The bigger question is who owns the customer experience. There was very little discussion about who is accountable for and damaged by a subpar customer experience. There were many discussions about spinning up a virtual brand as a weather balloon and a low-risk way to add sales. Without a direct tie to an established brand, we are nearing the commoditization of restaurant food. The elephant in the room is that once restaurant food is commoditized, what is keeping the 3PD companies from owning not just the customer data, but the complete virtualization of the business?” -Ben Pryor, Head of Innovation, Restaurants, SpotOn

"Thank you third-party delivery companies for getting us the customer the first time. Shame on us if we can't get them back." -Zack Oates, Founder & CEO, Ovation

“We're starting to see innovation around taking data from the POS or elsewhere and fueling applications "Unlock the POS". Skip Kimpel, you get credit for that phrase.” -Shane Whitlach, Chief Revenue Officer, Omnivore Technologies

“At Square, we don't wake up thinking about payments or hardware. We wake up thinking about restaurants. The likelihood that we’ll sit down with Toast is really low, but the likelihood that we'll sit down with all these ecosystem partners is really high." Bryan Solar, Head of Restaurants, Square

“Pizza robots, customer data platform (CDPs), guest communication tools, database insights, gamification of operations, machine learning, last mile delivery...it’s time to tech up. Find partners that get your model, who will hold your hand in implementation and more importantly than anything else, make it easier for your guests to dine with and communicate with you. Because here’s the thing. You aren’t competing with other restaurants. You’re competing against other experiences. With food available on every corner of every city and more and more on demand solutions, guests will choose experience over food. Your guests, no matter of age, location or upbringing, all have smart phones and are using Amazon, Uber, Target, Facebook, Walmart, GrubHub and hundreds of other apps to place orders. The easier you make your experience, the more it’s as easy to use these other every day apps, the more customers you’ll retain.” -David "Rev" Ciancio, Head of Revenue Marketing, Branded Strategic Hospitality

“The vibe at FOD was amazing. The show floor was a constant hum of activity. Many of the panels were informative and educational. This show will continue to grow as it leads the way forward for the industry.” -Fred LeFranc, CEO + Chaos Strategist & RTN Board of Governors, Results Thru Strategy 

And that’s a wrap. Until May 4-6, 2022, where Food On Demand will return to Vegas for round two, in just six short months. I, for one, cannot wait.

About the Author:

Angela Diffly is co-founder of Restaurant Technology Network (RTN).  Follow @resturanttechnology on TikTok.   Follow Angela Diffly on LinkedIn , Follow @RestTechNet on Twitter