Whether you’re craving street-side pizza or haute cuisine, looking to go on a diet or dine out on a whim, there is, as they say, an app for that. Food apps have revolutionized the food industry and are continuing to do so, putting an almost endless array of culinary possibilities at our fingertips in the process. But food apps are just part of a larger trend of technology in the food industry that’s often referred to as ‘the internet of food’, or IoF, and it’s shaking up the food industry in more ways than one - for retail consumers and restaurateurs, foodies and food companies alike. Restaurant review apps like Yelp, Zomato, and Trip Advisor were the first to revolutionize the restaurant industry, changing the way diners decide what’s for dinner and dictating, for better or worse, how restaurants respond to their every complaint. Now a new wave of IoF has started to shape the food industry anew: food delivery apps, which are changing dining habits, overturning restaurant operations, and giving way to entirely new restaurant models.
But it’s not just restaurant review apps and food delivery apps that are changing the food industry. There’s an app for almost everything related to the culinary world—from food tracker apps, nutrition calculator apps, and food journal or diary apps that help you track your meals and keep an eye on your nutrition, to restaurant reservations apps that help you snag a table at that always-crowded restaurant. There are apps that help you reduce your food waste, and food allergy apps that help you plan meals around your food allergies or find allergy-friendly restaurants. Just looking for recipes? There are also plenty of recipe and cookbook apps to choose from, and even some apps that offer free cooking lessons. Restaurant reservations apps like OpenTable can also get you a table at crowded restaurants or put your name on the list before you get there.
As far as reshaping the restaurant industry, however, no food apps compare to the impact of food delivery apps. While each city has their own available delivery apps, from Uber Eats to Deliveroo to Postmates, each one has had a similar effect on foodie’s habits and how restaurants are responding to them. With food delivery apps, just about anything you’re craving can be delivered to your door in minutes, from street food to artisanal cheese plates, and even dishes from the finest restaurants in some cases. Not surprisingly, this convenience has led many foodies to skip cooking at home and dining out some nights of the week. After a long day of work, who wants to cook or make the trip to a restaurant when you can have anything you want delivered just in time for that Netflix marathon?
But food delivery apps are also changing the way kitchens are run, and the effects aren’t entirely positive. Kitchens may see an increase in the number of menu items sold per night when partnering with food delivery apps, some even having trouble keeping up with demand, but quite often the profit margins are significantly lower. This, in an industry already notorious for razor-thin profit margins. With the high cost of deliveries and fuel surcharges, apps can charge restaurants up to 20-30% of a dish’s total price to have it delivered. Many restaurants are finding that, on the whole, as deliveries increase their profitability declines.
To make food deliveries more profitable, many restaurants are reorganizing their kitchens with space dedicated to app orders alone. In some cases, even this is not enough to make a restaurant profitable. With the overhead high cost of operating a dining space and restaurant staff, some kitchens are ditching the ‘restaurant’ business altogether, opening up kitchens with no dining areas whatsoever that cater 100% of their business to food delivery apps. Known as “ghost restaurants” this model is an entirely new one in the food industry, having been created specifically as a response to the rising food delivery app phenomenon. Eliminating dining space also means that a single kitchen can operate multiple ghost restaurants out of the same space.
Many restaurateurs are opting out of the food delivery app trend altogether in an attempt to provide better service to their in-house patrons, eliminating the burden on their kitchens and avoiding the clutter of having delivery people coming in and out of the dining area. More exacting chefs also dislike the fact that they have no quality control over their dishes once they leave the kitchen, and if an order arrives damaged customers may have a negative perception of the restaurant.
Despite their negative effects on the restaurant industry, food delivery apps are likely to increase in popularity as diners begin to expect their favorite restaurants to offer delivery. But what will food apps deliver for the future of the restaurant industry? Only time will tell.