Picture a dystopian restaurant future where the kitchen is just that, a kitchen. No front of house and no service. Just chefs toiling in the heat while their dishes are then boxed up and delivered throughout the city by drone.
It gets worse. Imagine chefs’ main employer as Amazon and giant industrial kitchens devoid of soul, where most processes are automated…
It’s a possible future for the restaurant industry and right now it looks like all the signs are pointing in that direction. You could say 2018 was the year that food delivery services really took a stranglehold of the restaurant industry. Eating out just isn’t cool any more as more people retreat to the safety of their home environment and use, Deliveroo, Amazon, Zomato, Just Eat – any number of food delivery services.
Just a cursory glance at the figures shows us the scale of growth in the Online Food Delivery segment. Revenue amounts to $82,714 million worldwide in 2018. The industry shows potential for robust growth and this year saw some staggering VC investments bolstering the trend.
Chinese investment firms directed a lot of money into food delivery start-ups in India. In February, Ant Financial pumped $200 million into Indian food deliver start-up Zomato, while more recently, start-up Swiggy raised $210 million at a valuation of $1.3 billion.
In a time of uncertain markets and diving stock markets it’s a massive vote of confidence in the global food delivery segment and where capital invests, enterprise innovates and the customer follows.
Make no mistake. Just as Amazon went after the small retailer, restaurants will be next.
Restaurant owners are already struggling against rising costs and staff shortages, of course, food delivery could offer a much-needed revenue stream in the short-term, but the risk is of inalterably changing the way we eat.
What the Food Delivery Service sector does is provide high-quality food for customers in the comfort of their own home. What it also does is take away from two fundamental pillars of our eating habits that have existed for thousands of years. The first is cooking at home. The kitchen is the heart of any home and it’s where that valuable exchange of food knowledge happens, it’s where a younger generation inherits their culinary legacy. We are already seeing the emergence of downtown city apartments, built for the hardworking 20-somethings that do not include a kitchen or cooking facilities.
The second, of course, is the ritual of eating out. If the kitchen is the heart of a restaurant, could you say the floor is its soul? It can’t be ignored that the fundamental reason people get into cooking in the first place is an altruistic desire to do something for others. Chefs are in their hearts, feeders. If the customer becomes just a distant, detached number, that very immediate relationship between chef and customer may fade.
Not to be too pessimistic, however, this article is ultimately taking a current trend to its nth degree. We’ve been eating the same ways for thousands of years, its ingrained in the fabric of who we are. Tech has ushered in a new age of individualisation, perhaps that increases the value of the real, shared experience. Restaurants are becoming more important social functionaries in a world where anxiety and disassociation are on the rise.
Trends in the luxury sector also point to an increase on emphasis on experience over acquisition. Restaurants are, after all, experiences and not just canteens, so the future offering for successful restaurants could be built around unique, authentic experiences. In this model, they become important guardians and purveyors of history and culture.
No one can tell the future, but what we can say is that the way we eat will continue to be affected by the growth of food delivery services. It’s a wave that has to be crested and ridden by restaurants and not ignored, or it could become a tsunami.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.