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The next big restaurant chain may not own any kitchens (techcrunch.com)
64 points by briatx 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

You don't even have to look to the big chains or into the future to see this principle in action - in NYC, Seamless/Grubhub/etc have created a whole industry of commissary kitchens operating multiple "restaurants" out of an anonymous, shared prep space, doing all of their business by delivery. I'm sure its probably the same in other similar markets.

(The idea isn't really new, either... even pre-internet, the thousands of food carts and trucks around the city got most of their supplies from shared commissary kitchens who do some degree of prep and cooking far away from where the cart will eventually operate).

We're just watching TechCrunch writers and the investors they write about discover commissary kitchens together.

> thousands of food carts and trucks

And indeed restaurants themselves in the UK, especially pub ones, will order quite a lot of their food partially prepped already

Same in Italy, certain restaurant classes get premade meals that only need heating. Usually pubs but "enoteche" (wineries?) too

This idea is here already, at least in the UK. If you go into a motorway service station, exhibition centre or a railway station then you are presented with a choice of restaurants, coffee places and other stores. So you could have 'Delice de France' next to a 'Burger King' and half a dozen other places to 'choose from'.

What is not obvious is that one company, e.g. someone like 'Compass' group, run all of the franchises at the site. So the choice is a fake one, the infrastructure behind the store fronts is all the same with the same loading bay for all the 'different' stores. The coffee may appear to be different and you might be able to choose between your favourite Italian/American/British coffeehouses and the coffee may even taste different in each of the different outlets, however, you won't get cheap or brilliant coffee, no matter what you believe about your chosen brand as, at that location, it is all coming from the same company. This company has just franchised a few brands to operate its storefronts from.

Luckily people are easily fooled and they do not ever think to ask if the same company is behind all the apparent 'choices' they have on site. Communism was more honest, they didn't have fake brands.

I don’t really understand what you think the core of the problem is?

Why should a consumer care who owns the franchise? What difference does that make to me?

If you have a service station with a Starbucks and a Burger King are you saying they both secretly serve the same coffee? I’m sure Starbucks franchise agreements do not allow that and it will be the coffee that Starbucks select and roast (whether you think that’s good or bad), not the coffee Burger King supply. So there is a real difference and a real choice there isn’t there?

They share a loading bay and a till system? Why on earth do care about that?

The early days of letting shops and franchises into service stations saw a few different, and contractually separate, companies weakly competing. A few independents mixed in with the WH Smith that was often as well as a main shop. There would be real alternative choices. Weakly competing as a services has an effective monopoly for a 50 mile stretch of motorway, so they were never going to be competing with Tesco or corner caf prices.

Now the entire service station is single supplier agreements making the entire service station effectively a single franchise. Even in the petrol station shop. Half the choices are just branding styles on the front of the same parent. Chances of a real independent are somewhere around nil. Prices and brand choice are heavily constrained accordingly. Quality and service drops accordingly so a burger or coffee franchise on the motorway is a pale reflection of the high street.

If one of the shops doesn't have product x there's no longer any point checking the other shops, or the petrol station shop, it won't be in those either. The only answer is normally to drive to the next services and make sure it's showing a different brand on the sign before pulling in.

With hindsight I think it was a mistake allowing the motorway sign to be branded in any way.

The best answer, of course, is leave the motorway and find a proper shop or caf. :)

Because it is fake competition, which is pretty much what we get anymore. With real competition, one of the two places might do a better job of pleasing customers and get most of the business. With real competition, the employees preparing and serving the food will get a free market wage. Otherwise, it is all Disneypeople serving Disneyfood.

it's not been free market competition for a long time. I look out at the number of Pret a Mangers that office workers around me go to at lunch. It's like watching pigs going to the troughs to feed. The buildings empty, the pigs go to the next available spot and they return to their pens. They don't really give a shit really how long the lines are. Also fast food employees getting free market wages? They get minimum wage and if they work there for two years, they get a dollar increase to their wage. That's it, there is no lateral promotion.

Much like how they only put Coca Cola products in the Coca Cola vending machines and how they only put Pepsi products in the Pepsi vending machines (but still own both), the Starbucks people get their special snowflake beans and the people opposite in Costa get their special snowflake beans.

Out the back, when the big lorry pulls up, stock gets updated across the site. There is not a special lorry just for the Starbucks people (e.g. Americans) to get their special beans. It all comes together on one big lorry from the same distribution hub.

Why should the customer care?

If you only have a few minutes to wait for your train and you want to get a large coffee for your journey then you know that there is no point 'shopping around'. You are not going to get a more competitive coffee by checking out the half dozen options, you might as well just get what is easiest and least stressful.

On a deeper level the customer should care because they are being fleeced. None of that coffee is that good really, if you want a decent cup of coffee then you really need to be going to an independent place where the staff are more inclined to get to know your name (if you go there every day) and more likely to know how you like your drink. You get service with a smile instead of a minimum wage, 'can't be bovvered' shrug.

> If you only have a few minutes to wait for your train and you want to get a large coffee for your journey then you know that there is no point 'shopping around'. You are not going to get a more competitive coffee by checking out the half dozen options, you might as well just get what is easiest and least stressful.

But the Starbucks coffee is a different size, different beans, different method of preparation, different price, different type of cup, than the Burger King coffee. There's a point shopping around between those two isn't there? One may be a more competitive offer than the other to you. Maybe you're price sensitive so you go with Burger King. Maybe you want a coffee prepared with espresso rather than filter so you go with Starbucks.

> On a deeper level the customer should care because they are being fleeced. None of that coffee is that good really

Well now we're just down to your personal opinion on different coffee brands and independence!

Part of the original notion of 'brands' was that they convey a promise to the buyer about the nature and quality of a product. It's a betrayal of the consumers' trust if the franchised version does not live up to the original brand's standards

nowhere did the gp say that the products are fake (generic coffee with the starbucks label slapped on top). so i'm guessing that those coffeehouses are franchises operating like any other franchise, it's just in this case, they're owned/operated by one company.

At one point triple combos of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell ("Kentacohut") were common in Singapore -- and they didn't even try to hide it, there was a single shared counter for ordering.

One in the US: http://www.dailypress.com/news/york-county/dp-nws-ypq-kentac...

> and they didn't even try to hide it

Why would they?

I don't see why it's something to hide, as if they're doing something wrong.

> Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.


LOL it's been almost 5 months and websites still haven't been able to comply with this?

Anyway this works: http://web.archive.org/web/20171013204131/http://www.dailypr...

Thanks for finding a EU-friendly link! And I agree, it's absolutely astonishing that 5 months in, there are still websites left that haven't worked out a compliance solution.

It's honestly kind of sad. If huge municipal websites, government websites etc. are able to follow GDPR then surely a news website can too and not only that. There has been like two years to prepare for it too. There are no excuses of why you're not compliant unless you really don't want to be compliant.

The excuse could definitely be that their fundamental business model is not compliant with GDPR. If they can't financially justify complying with it, then they can't allow access from European countries.

Edit: Maybe that's what you meant by "unless you really don't want to be compliant".

Yep, that's exactly what I meant.

FWIW, those 3 show up together worldwide because those 3 brands are all owned by "Yum Brands." In the US the trucks that deliver generally show branding for all 3 brands + Yum.

Here I'll just drop this stoner ode to YUM Brands operational synergies.


It would've been awesome if they'd known to sprinkle their barely-rap with some interstitial Singlish.

I don't think the choice is 'fake' at all.

'Operated by' really means owned by: the IP, processes, foods, experiences are created entirely separately, it's just one owner.

If the food is good and people like it then hey.

That said, I do wonder about quality, freshness, real experience, real innovation - no doubt scale provides all sorts of advantages, but it cuts out other things as well.

There are zero 'scale' restaurants in my neighbourhood and I don't miss anything really - other than a coffee chain store. There's a knock-off Chipotle which fills the only hole I might miss on occasion!

> the choice is a fake one

I can’t buy a Whopper at Pizza Express, the parent companies of both are owned by different people, both parent companies have different supply chains and the franchising rules for both are separate.

In what way don’t I have a choice? Because Compass are contracting the cleaning, logistics, and personnel (who, for what it’s worth, will go through entirely different franchise-mandated training)? Seems a bit of a reach.

I've noticed food courts in American malls seem to have a similar setup. I remember ordering "bourbon chicken" at a Cajun-style restaurant in a food court and realizing it tasted suspiciously similar to the Teriyaki chicken served at the Japanese stall next door.

Thanks for the background, that explains a lot about UK rail station food. Is this model also used in German rail stations?

Communism was more honest, they didn't have fake brands.

Sincere smiles from an automated food retail startup in China. We are going for 100% personalized orders, in essence the consumer defines the recipe (nominally after discovery from a set of pre-ordained options they are free to deviate from entirely).

Most chain and many local bar restaurants barely have kitchens as is, they mainly just reheat Sysco or US Foods products.

It's an interesting field that could potentially be huge. I'm working for a startup in that space, so maybe I'm biased but food tech really has a chance to change society. Exciting to be a part of it.

It won't be big because most people don't want to eat soggy food that has been likely transported by a bicycle when they go to a restaurant.

Yet another fantasy that won't come true

And the drive to mediocrity continues.

Now everybody can serve up TV dinners Applebees/IHOP/Darden Restaurant style...

Why do you assume it has to be low quality or mediocre?

The article is about infrastructure for food preparation and storage.

How many food entrepreneurs and chefs have you talked to? What are their biggest pain points and what are the biggest barriers to entry to go from a novel food idea to serving it up to customers? What are the biggest barriers to quality in food?

How many restaurant-goers have you talked to? What kind of food do people want and how is that changing? How fast are delivery businesses growing YoY and can something like this enable more delivery-based restaurants?

There are so many interesting questions and data around this space.

If you have even a fraction of the answers to these question, please do share and contribute because as it stands now, your statement is more suited for Reddit. I can't respect such a shallow take on something quite complex.

The biggest cost in the restaurant industry is labor and very limited price points. ~15% of the price of your meal goes to the food cost. (That in its self is a challenge which is why people go for GFS and suppliers to deliver)

Darien is known for being low quality because they have optimized their business to run with little skills. Made processes that could be taught vs using skilled and experienced labor.

The taste difference is noticeable. I stopped going to chain restaurants about half a decade ago, but every now and then get dragged into one by relatives. Whether it's Olive Garden, Applebees, Chilli's, OCharley's, IHOP, Longhorn, Outback... they all taste the same. Mediocre ingredients, assembled in a way that is convenient for their process but detrimental to taste.

Ask for a rare steak, you'll either get something medium-well (because the manual says to cook for at least X mins) or something rare but with no browning whatsoever on the outside. Fish will always be overcooked. Sauces are all cornstarch based to give them a thick texture, yet don't make use of interesting fats like olive oil, butter or the meat fats from cooking. Bread tastes like it's a week old...

> Why do you assume it has to be low quality or mediocre?

Why don't you? If you can't see it and it's all abstracted away, what's the mechanism that prevents them from going for the cheapest ingredients available in bulk?

Assuming the worst is a reasonable default whenever you're dealing with highly-competitive market. Even traditional restaurants cheat behind the back. Ever ordered a grilled chicken breast in a typical restaurant? Good chances are it was simply reheated in a microwave and then briefly put on a sandwich grill to add some grilling marks. When I first heard of this practice, I talked about it with my SO, who used to wait tables at an expensive restaurant, and her answer was, "why are you surprised? yeah, it's how it's done".

> Why do you assume it has to be low quality or mediocre?

Have you eaten at any of the listed restaurants? They're all using a similar concept. Food is, for the most part, cooked elsewhere and heated up when needed. Just above the quality of a $4 frozen Stouffers TV dinner.

I'm making a judgement based on what I'll pay for. I really don't care what the pain points are for the restaurant if the food is as shitty as the meals I've had at Applebees, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, IHOP, Dennys etc.

Chilis has rolled out this concept (somewhat) over the last year or 2 and the quality of the meals has suffered greatly but it's still slightly better than the places listed above.

FWIW, I have 2 friends whose family business are italian food. One of them lives in PA and ships me stuff in a styrofoam cooler that's better than 90% of the italian places around here. The other runs my favorite local italian place. I've been going there for 22+ years. I dread when he retires...

Because it is used to drive down costs. The work is commodditized. It is made cheaper. It is a way to race to the bottom of cost and thus quality.

The definition of a restaurant is commonly something like this: "a place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises."

They are no longer restaurants by definition, whereas McDonalds will be. I think the parent poster is right to treat the trend with disdain. It just means cheaper garbage being served everywhere.

Why bother eating out?

I am very curious why food-related startups are mostly about delivery like deliveroo and uberEats. Is it because of the advertising efforts put in, or my lack of attention.

Would love to learn from someone who can shed some light on your set of question!

> I am very curious why food-related startups are mostly about delivery like deliveroo and uberEats.

I assume because it's much cheaper to hire contractors than employees, and it's much easier to make delivery drivers contractors (you can deliver for lots of companies in one night) than chefs (you're not going to cook each different meal for a different restaurant in one night). So if you only provide the delivery you only need contractors for the actual service you provide.

VC based companies want to control the app(controlling user demand) and control the delivery network.

Why ?

Roughly speaking, high demand means you can deliver cheaper than others(assuming you have the delivery network) - because if you deliver all the meals in my building, it's very efficient. Once you have those, you tend to win the market, make tons of money, and it's very hard for someone else to build that and challenge you. A very good business.

Quite the opposite really.

Where it used to be that the only food you could get delivered was curry and pizza (in New Zealand, at least), these days you can get a whole array of restaurant quality food delivered to your doorstep. If only it looked as good as the dishes do in a restaurant.

I find it mind boggling how quickly this changed in New Zealand. Almost everything is available now; Fast food outlets were actually late to the part, I see Burger King just became available in my area this week!

Hmm: looking at 19th century shops where only merchants picked products to self-checkout today, that seems like the trend. Everyone will end up doing everything themselves.

duplicate - look at "past".

On HN it isn't a duplicate if it hasn't been reposted too much and the previous posts didn't get significant attention.


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