YC-backed Tablevibe’s customer surveys help restaurants reduce their reliance on delivery apps

Food delivery apps offer convenience for customers, but a host of headaches for restaurants, like commissions as high as 40% and very few tools to build customer loyalty. Based in Singapore, Tablevibe wants to help restaurants reduce their reliance on third-party delivery apps and help them get more direct orders and returning customers. The startup is part of Y Combinator’s current batch, which will hold its Demo Day at the end of this month.

Tablevibe’s founding team includes two former Googlers: Jeroen Rutten, formerly head of Google Search’s product strategy in APAC and Sneep, who was responsible for its app development go-to-market strategy and led large sales teams. They are joined by Guido Caldara, a lead teacher at coding bootcamp Le Wagon and Tablevibe’s chief technology officer.

The idea for Tablevibe came after Rutten, its chief executive officer, visited a restaurant in Singapore that used paper feedback forms.

“We thought, if they use a paper feedback form, it actually creates a lot of hassle, like entering all the data into an Excel spreadsheet,” he told TechCrunch. “How’s the restaurant owner going to get actionable feedback based on data in an Excel spreadsheet?”

The team began working on the first version of Tablevibe, with simple Google Forms for dine-in customers and Google Data Studio dashboards, and tested it with three restaurants a few months before COVID-19 emerged. They found that using Tablevibe instead of paper forms increased response rates by up to 26x and also had the benefit of creating more repeat customers, since they are given an incentive for filling out surveys.

Then the pandemic hit and restaurants had to suddenly pivot to deliveries. The team kept the same idea behind their feedback forms, but started using QR codes affixed to takeout packaging. The QR codes (usually in the form of stickers so food and beverage businesses don’t need to order new packaging) also offer an incentive if customers scan it and fill out a survey—but the discount or free item can’t be redeemed through third-party delivery apps, only through direct orders with the restaurant.

Restaurants can customize surveys, but about 80% use Tablevibe’s templates, which are quick to fill out, since most questions just ask for a rating from one to five stars (there’s also an optional form for customers to write their opinions). Customers fill out their name, email addresses, and then rank the food and atmosphere (for dine-in). For delivery, customers are also asked what app they used.

Tablevibe is integrated with Google Reviews, so if someone gives the restaurant a high rating, they are asked if they want to make it public. They also have the option to follow its Facebook or Instagram profile.

For dine-in customers, Tablevibe primarily works with F&B businesses that have multiple venues, including Merci Marcel and Lo and Behold Group. For its delivery survey, most users are smaller restaurants that have one location. It also serves cloud kitchens, like CloudEats in the Philippines.

“As a restaurant, you want to own and grow your customer relationships,” said Sneep, Tablevibe’s chief operating officer. “The first part is actually knowing who your customers are, what they experienced and how you can contact them, which is how we can help. The second piece is growing a customer relationship, which we do by giving a reward, but only if a customer reorders directly with a restaurant.”

Customers have generated over 25,000 reviews through Tablevibe so far, which gives the company data to help determine what kind of incentives will convince someone to scan a restaurant’s QR code and take a survey.

Tablevibe’s founders say it can deliver more than 100x return on investment to its clients. For example, Merci Marcel did an evaluation and determined that it got a 103x ROI, based on the number of customers who claimed incentives, average order value, how many people left a five-star Google Review and how much more business those reviews drove to their venues.

The startup plans to expand into other English-speaking markets, focusing first on Northern Europe and then North America later this year. Aside from Singapore, it’s already used by customers in the Philippines, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Portugal.

Rutten said that Tablevibe plans to build its development team, with the goal of becoming a “Salesforce for restaurants” that can help them build engagement through delivery or dine-ins, capture data and turn them into useful insights.

“Our roadmap has two levers—one is to get more data and the other is to provide more intelligence,” he said. “We’re working on API integrations so Tablevibe can integrate with point-of-sale systems. The second thing is to pull in more publicly available data from sources like Google Reviews. We will also build out more marketing features to leverage customer databases so businesses can send out emails about new restaurant launches, etc.” Eventually, Tablevibe also plans to use AI to help restaurants determine exactly what they need to do to improve customer experience, like change a menu item.

Easy Eat AI raises $5M to help Southeast Asian restaurants digitize their operations

Easy Eat AI, a Singapore-based startup that wants to “transform restaurants into technology companies,” announced today it has raised $5 million in funding. Easy Eat AI offers an operating system for restaurants that lets them digitize all parts of their business, from inventory and customer orders to delivery, and gain AI-based data analytics to improve revenue.

Many food and beverage businesses started digitizing orders and payments so they could offer deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Easy Eat AI lets restaurants integrate with third-party food ordering apps, it also has its own delivery infrastructure, including on-demand riders, that costs just 4% per order, compared to the 20%-30% that many of the largest food delivery platforms charge.

Founded in 2019 by Mohd Wassem, Rhythm Gupta and Abdul Khalid, Easy Eat AI currently has operations in Malaysia, and plans to expand into other Southeast Asian markets. The funding included participation from Aroa Ventures, the family office of OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal; Reddy Futures Family Office; Prophetic Ventures; OYO global chief strategy officer Maninder Gulati; Alarko Ventures managing partner Cem Garih; and Esas Ventures founder and managing partner Fethi Sabancı Kamışlı.

Wassem told TechCrunch that Easy Eat AI was created because even though Southeast Asia “is a food paradise, everyone eats out, eating out is a culture here,” the restaurant industry is still one of the least advanced digitally. Before the pandemic, he said that about 80% of restaurant business came from in-person dining, but taking orders manually resulted in very little data kept about who customers are, what they like to order or how often they return.

Easy Eat AI’s platform helps restaurants create that digital connection with their customers. Some of its clients include chains like Richiamo Coffee, Mr. Fish Fishhead Noodles, WTF Group and Hailam Toast. During COVID-19 lockdowns, Easy Eat AI has helped restaurants fulfill deliveries and its other features, like targeted marketing campaigns and loyalty reward programs, are relevant to in-person dining, too.

A restaurant menu on Easy Eat AI's platform

A restaurant menu on Easy Eat AI’s platform

Easy Eat AI’s consumer interface is based on QR code ordering—customers scan the code with their smartphone and are taken directly to the restaurant’s menu online. They pick what they want, then create an account or sign-in by entering their mobile number. Payments and reward programs can also be accessed through the platform.

The company says that after analyzing 100,000 orders at more than 50 restaurants over six months, it found that people spend about 30% more when they order digitally compared to through a waiter—similar to when people go shopping for a specific item online and end up adding more items to their cart while browsing.

After a restaurant uses Easy Eat AI for about 30 to 45 days, it is able to build a customer database for targeted online marketing strategies, sending offers to the people who are most likely to use them.

For example, a month after launching in its third outlet of Mr. Fish, the platform had collected data from more than 1,400 customers. The restaurant was able to see that about 20% visited the restaurant more than once, and the average duration between their visits was 12 days. Based on that information, it created marketing campaigns to draw back people who hadn’t returned in 20 days. During that time, Mr. Fish also started fulfilling delivery orders through Easy Eat AI, and by the end of the month, 13.4% of its orders were coming through the platform, reducing its reliance on third-party delivery apps.

In a statement about the funding, Keshav Reddy, managing partner of Reddy Futures Family Office, said, “The team is customer obsessed and understands the pain problems of the industry. Their innovative software platform will be disruptive to the entire F&B ecosystem and how customers engage through the entire F&B lifecycle in the online-to-offline world.”

Deliverect gobbles up $65M for a platform that streamlines online and offline food orders

Restaurants rode a wave of usage of food delivery services like Deliveroo, Uber Eats and DoorDash in the last year, discovering new revenues and ways to connect with diners to offset the fact that in-person trade for many of them had disappeared overnight. But they also discovered something less appetizing: dealing with the mess of apps and hardware that they need to use to manage orders from their various services is a nightmare, worse than a deflated souffle or a botched Beef Wellington.

Today, a startup out of Belgium called Deliverect, which has built a platform to manage all of that through one seamless app, is today announcing a big round of funding.

Underscoring the demand for its technology and the bumper year it’s just had, the company has raised $65 million — funding that it will be using to expand its business. That will include the services and integrations that it provides with a wider range of physical point of sale terminals and third-party service providers, and targeting more customers — restaurants, dark kitchens and consumer goods companies building direct-to-consumer strategies — in a wider range of markets.

The funding is being co-led by DST and Redpoint Ventures, with OMERS, Newion, Smartfin and the founders also participating. It brings the total raised by Deliverect to $90 million, and while the valuation is currently not being disclosed, it comes on the heels of big growth. In the last year, the company processed some $1 billion across 30 million orders for its customers, with business growing almost 750% in the last year.

Customers number 10,000 and include the likes of chains like KFC and Pret a Manger, smaller restaurants like Dishoom (an Indian restaurant in London, for readers outside of London), a dark kitchen startup called Casper, and consumer goods giant Unilever.

For some further context on valuation, Toast, a company that provides similar SaaS out of the US, but also sells an all-in-one product that also includes the point-of-sale hardware, is reportedly working on an IPO right now that would value it at $20 billion.

Zhong Xu, the CEO who co-founded Deliverect with Jan Hollez (CTO), Jelte Vrijhoef (CIO), and Jerome Laredo (CRO), recalled in an interview that the idea for the company stretches back to a time when his dad, an Asian transplant to Belgium who had built a point of sale system that he sold to Chinese restaurants, had hoped that his son would take over the family business. He had the entrepreneurial itch, however, and also saw that the problem was bigger than just the range of businesses that his dad was targeting. (His dad is still in business, and they still talk, Xu confirmed.)

That first led Xu and Hollez, also friends outside of work, in 2010, to found POSiOS, which was the first iPad-based point of sale solution in Europe. That business four years later was acquired by Lightspeed, to spearhead its move into POS for restaurants just ahead of its IPO.

That wasn’t the end of the line for these two, though. “We saw that tens of thousands of customers were using our iPad system, but they were asking for something else. They wanted to remove all their tablets altogether,” Xu said.

What he is referring to is a pretty big issue for the typical ready-made food provider. Be it a restaurant, a chain, a dark kitchen or a food company itself, the market for taking and filling food orders is traditionally very fragmented. You will have one proprietary system that is used to manage orders in your restaurant itself, and another for orders that people call in to come pick up and takeaway, and a third for delivery orders taken via third-party platforms.

And that third can be more than one, depending on how many delivery networks your restaurant is using. All of these could feasibly require their own pieces of hardware, and these customers wanted that simplified down to one device alone.

“Just try to imagine being in a restaurant: there could be people there, others calling in, and between 5 and 10 tablets screaming for attention,” Hollez said in an interview. “It is just not possible to manage this.”

The solution that Deliverect, founded in 2018, has built essentially brings all of that into a single SaaS platform that manages all of these different channels in one place.

This gives the food provider a way of adequately monitoring and managing what stock is being used up and which dishes are subsequently off the menu, what orders are coming in and where and how to better manage that across their operations, and critically to update their customers on what they can actually order and how long it might take to fill that order out (a provider like Deliveroo will then also use that data to calculate how long it will take to not just make the order but to pick it up and get it to a customer). Deliverect also provides some analytics that can help its customers figure out how to manage all this better in the future.

While this state of affairs has been a problem for years, it definitely escalated in the last year, Xu said, with between 10% and 30% more orders coming from delivery platforms. The company claims that using its software helps its restaurant customers work significantly more efficiently, leading to an average increase of 25% in revenues and — importantly — an 80% decrease in order failures that resulted from all that chaotic fragmentation.

The work it’s doing with FMCG companies is also interesting: the idea here is that brands themselves have been in a bind that has only tightened in the last year, with usually only a very indirect relationship with customers: perhaps a strong bond in terms of marketing, but not when it comes to actually selling food items to customers: its sales typically involve intermediaries such as stores or restaurants.

But as the D2C trend has taken off in food, those big brands are leaving a lot on the table for competitors to pick up, and that’s even more of an issue when the restaurants and stores are being shut or just seeing less footfall due to Covid-19. So many of them have started to explore what they might do to bridge that gap. Xu said that by and large the focus at the moment is really about running marketing campaigns and getting physical items to people as a part of that, but it does present some very interesting ideas about how Deliverect might develop in the future.

For example, a new wave of ultra-fast grocery delivery startups are emerging, and those could represent a new wave of customers for the company and be a tool for helping the Unilevers of the world supply those platforms with steady streams of its products, or indeed the FMCG companies could leverage those to become direct sellers of their fizzy drinks, pretzels and chocolates (or whatever items they want to sell). Xu noted in fact that Spain’s Glovo, one of these startups, is already a partner.

All of this spells an interesting future, despite the many other companies also chasing the opportunity, one reason why these founders and this startup out of Ghent have been backed by these high-profile international investors.

“The explosive rise of online food delivery is forcing restaurants to change how they operate,” said Elliot Geidt, Managing Director, Redpoint Ventures, in a statement. “Zhong and the Deliverect team are building the tools and infrastructure to help restaurants thrive in a world where navigating online food delivery is a matter of success or failure. Zhong has a unique empathy for restaurant owners, an unmatched technical understanding of the food delivery tech stack, and a raw ambition and vision that leaves us very excited.”

“Restaurants, consumer goods companies and other businesses increasingly want to enable on-demand ordering by their customers,” added Tom Stafford, Managing Partner, DST Global Partners, in his own statement. “But many do not have the tools or technology to efficiently work with  on-demand delivery providers. Deliverect is providing key software and integrations to enable these businesses to integrate on-demand offerings seamlessly. We are excited to partner with the Deliverect team as they continue to roll out their technology globally and further develop their product offering.”

Investors get a rise out of Walmart’s agreement to stock more Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat shares soared today on the heels of an announcement that Walmart is beefing up its relationship with the purveyor of meatless protein patties, sausages, and balls.

900 stores will now be stocking Beyond Meat’s hot Italian sausages and its party packs of beefless burgers — those grilling delectations for the omnivores, vegetarians and vegans who no longer want to ask “Where’s the beef?”

Beyond Meat’s increased distribution at Walmart stores is the second jump in production over the past year and part of the company’s efforts to lock down the market for plant-based meat substitutes.

The company’s foods are now sold in over 28,000 stores, and it’s also pulling ahead in the food service industry, where it recently announced deals with Yum Brands and McDonalds.

Shares of the company’s stock ended the day up 3.16% or $4.28 as investors ate up the news.

 

“We are thrilled by the continued growth with Walmart and the opportunity to offer Walmart customers increased accessibility to a larger selection of our delicious and better-for-you plant-based products,” said Chuck Muth, Chief Growth Officer, Beyond Meat. “As more households continue to buy our products and buy them more frequently, we’re excited to satisfy the growing demand through increased product offerings and distribution.”

The partnership with Walmart, which dates back to 2015 is significant, but not nearly as attention grabbing as the company’s elaboration on recent agreements with McDonalds and Yum! Brands — the brains behind KFC and the two franchises that launched America’s greatest fast food hip hop anthem.

In late February, Beyond Meat opened up about its deals with Yum! Brands and McDonald’s that would see the company work to co-create plant-based protein menu items for KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell along with the famous golden arches fo McDonald’s.

That details of the agreement withYum! included the expansion of testing the company’s Beyond Fried Chicken in other U.S. cities with KFC. And the launch of the Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza and the Great Beyond Pizza nationwide, becoming the first national pizza chain to introduce a plant-based meat pizza coast-to-coast, the company’s said in a statement at the time.

The McDonald’s announcement fleshed out the meatless details of a partnership that was previously announced when the fast food giant unveiled its McPlant sandwich — a kind of face plant for Beyond given that it couldn’t confirm the details of the agreement at the time.

Now, other plant-based menu items — including options for chicken, pork, and egg products, have been unveiled as part of the broader McPlant platform, the companies said in February.

“Our new McPlant platform is all about giving customers more choices when they visit McDonald’s,” said Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, said at the time. “We’re excited to work with Beyond Meat to drive innovation in this space, and entering into this strategic agreement is an important step on our journey to bring delicious, high quality, plant-based menu items to our customers.”

It’s been a busy year for the branding geniuses at Beyond Meat, who also inked a deal with Pepsi to develop protein enhanced snacks and beverages under the tragically named PLANeT Partnership.

 

Malaysia-based inventory management platform Food Market Hub raises $4 million from Go-Ventures, SIG

Food Market Hub co-founders Anthony See and Shayna Teh

Many restaurants still rely on spreadsheets to track their inventory of produce, meat and other ingredients. But using manual methods often results in food wastage and higher costs. Malaysia-based Food Market Hub is a cloud-based platform that connects food and beverage (F&B) outlets directly to suppliers, making it easier to communicate and manage orders. The startup announced today it has closed a Series A round of $4 million from Go-Ventures, the investment arm of Gojek, and SIG.

This brings Food Market Hub’s total funding to $4.7 million so far. Founded in 2017 by Anthony See and Shayna Teh, Food Market Hub is currently used by about 2,000 food and beverage outlets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The platform handles about $200 million in purchase orders on an annual basis and is used by well-known brands like Din Tai Fung, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Putien.

Food Market Hub automates purchasing and inventory tracking by connecting food and beverage outlets with central kitchens and suppliers. Orders can be placed through the platform or by email and WhatsApp. The platform also uses AI-based tech to forecast purchasing needs by analyzing past data.

Part of Food Market Hub’s Series A will be used to expand into Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Teh told TechCrunch that the company chose those three countries because they are the largest food and beverage markets in Southeast Asia, and share many similarities with Malaysia.

“The F&B sector does not use digitized procurement and inventory management solutions, which leads to inefficiency and significant added costs,” she said.

Several other startups focused on digitizing the food supply chain in those countries have also recently raised venture capital funding, including Thailand’s FreshKet, Indonesia’s Eden Farm and TaniHub, and Singapore-based Glife.

Teh said Food Market Hub doesn’t view those companies as competitors, because they focus on supplying produce and other ingredients to restaurants. Instead, Food Market Hub’s core business “is a communication platform that allows restaurants to communicate with and place orders to their existing suppliers,” she said.

“In fact, our customers will likely use our platform to place orders to these companies in the future,” she added.

Food Market Hub’s target clientele include restaurants that are growing into chains or franchises, which means manual purchase orders and inventory management quickly becomes inefficient. Before they started using Food Market Hub, many clients relied on Excel spreadsheets and notebooks to track inventory level and placed orders through phone calls, emails or WhatsApp, Teh said.

The company claims close to zero churn, with clients sticking to the platform unless their restaurant shuts down. Unfortunately, many food and beverage businesses have been forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including some of Food Market Hub’s customers. On the other hand, the pandemic underscored the importance of controlling inventory closely to manage costs.

“Restaurant owners and managers embraced technology at a much faster rate than ever before and we have been a beneficiary,” said Teh. “We have seen record demand for our products in recent months and are onboarding hundreds of outlets each month and expect this to only accelerate going forward.”

Marriott International announces partnership with Grab in six Southeast Asian countries

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the hospitality industry especially hard, and hotels around the world are looking for ways to regain revenue. Today, Marriott International and Grab announced a partnership that will cover the hospitality giant’s dining businesses in six Southeast Asian countries: Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

Instead of room bookings, Marriott International deal with Grab focuses on about 600 restaurants and bars at its properties in the six Southeast Asian countries, which will start being added to GrabFood’s on-demand delivery platform in November. A joint announcement from the companies said the deal represents Marriott International’s “first extensive integration with a super app platform in Southeast Asia and Grab’s most comprehensive agreement with a hospitality group to date.”

Marriott International is the world’s largest hotel company. During the second quarter, as the pandemic curtailed travel and in-person events, it reported a loss of $234 million, compared to the profit of $232 million it had recorded a year earlier. Chief executive Arne Sorenson called it “the worst quarter we have ever seen,” even though business is gradually recovering in China.

The Marriott-Grab integration means the two companies will link their loyalty programs, so GrabRewards points can be converted to Marriott Bonvoy points, or vice versa. Marriott International’s restaurants and bars that accept GrabPay will also have access to Grab’s Merchant Discovery platform, which will allow them to ping users about local deals and includes a marketing campaign platform called GrabAds.

Other hospitality businesses that Grab already partners with include Booking.com and Klook. Klook is among several travel-related companies that have recalibrated to focus on “staycations,” or services for people who can’t travel during the pandemic, but still want a break from their regular routines.

Impossible Foods nabs some Canadian fast food franchises as it expands in North America

After rolling out in some of Canada’s most high-falutin burger bistros, Impossible Foods is hitting Canada’s fast casual market with new menu items at national chains like White Spot and Triple O’s, Cactus Club Cafe and Burger Priest.

While none of those names mean anything to yours truly, they may mean something to our friendly readers to the North. However, I have heard of Qdoba, Wahlburgers and Red Robin. And Canadian customers can also pick up Impossible Foods -based menu items at those chains too.

Since its debut at Momofuku Nishi in New York in 2016, the Impossible Burger is now served in 30,000 restaurants across the U.S. and is available in 11,000 grocery stores across America.

The Silicon Valley manufacturer of meat substitutes expects that Canada, the company’s first market outside of Asia, may become its largest market — second only to the U.S.

Jakarta-based Wahyoo gets $5 million Series A to help small eateries digitize their operations

Wahyoo’s team, including CEO Peter Shearer (third from left)

While growing up, Peter Shearer watched his mother get up every day at 2AM or 3AM to prepare for her catering business. For many people who own small food businesses in Indonesia, “everything is handled on their own, so I really, really wanted to create a system so they can have better operations and get more quality of life,” Shearer told TechCrunch.

His startup, Wahyoo, was founded in 2017 to help small eateries, called warung makan, digitize and automate more tasks, from ordering supplies to managing finances. Today, Wahyoo announced that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Intudo Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on Indonesia.

Other investors in the round included Kinesys Group, Amatil X (the corporate venture program of Coca-Cola Amatil, one of the world’ five largest Coca-Cola bottlers), Arkblu Capital, Indogen Capital, Selera Kapital, Gratyo Universal Indonesia and Isenta Hioe. The capital will be used on hiring, developing Wahyoo’s tech platform and expanding beyond the Greater Jakarta area.

In a press statement about the investment, Intudo Ventures founding partner Patrick Yip said, “Small-and medium enterprises represent one of the major engines of economic growth in Indonesia and are being transformed through new innovative businesses like Wahyoo, bringing greater economic prosperity to small business owners throughout the country. Through the company’s digitization efforts, Wahyoo’s highly targeted support for warung makan businesses is creating positive economic and social impact for Indonesia’s working class.”

Wahyoo launched its app almost exactly a year ago and has onboarded about 13,800 warung makan so far. The company’s co-founders are Shearer, the chief executive officer; chief operating officer Daniel Cahyadi; and chief technology officer Michael Dihardja.

With about 268 million people, Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest markets, and there are already startups, like Warung Pintar and BakuWarung, that focus on helping warung, or small corner stores, digitize more of their operations.

Shearer said he wanted to focus on Indonesian eateries in particular because “my background is in the food industry and I love anything related to food. Second, the potential is very big because no one has tapped into this type of warung before. Everyone focuses on retail, but no one taps into the culinary business.”

Wahyoo currently employs about 170 people, including on-the-ground teams who meet with warung makan owners. The eateries are “usually run by a family, from generation to generation,” with almost all tasks performed manually, including bookkeeping and going to markets early in the morning to buy ingredients, Shearer said.

A warung makan owner on Wahyoo’s platform

Wahyoo’s features include a next-day grocery delivery service from its own warehouses and integration with Go Food, a popular delivery app. The startup also runs an education program called Wahyoo Academy, with financial courses to help warung makan owners increase customer traffic and revenue, and offers advertising and brand partnerships.

For example, a restaurant on Wahyoo’s platform can earn money by placing ad banners or brochures in their stores. That is one of the way Wahyoo monetizes. It is free to use for restaurant owners, and makes revenue by taking a percentage of brand commissions.

Another revenue stream is Wahyoo’s fried chicken franchise, which gives warung makan owners the option of opening a small stall in front of their stores. It currently has about 350 stalls and keeps costs low by partnering with one of Indonesia’s largest poultry suppliers. Shearer said the company’s goal is to increase the number of stalls to 1,000 by the end of this year.

While eateries on Wahyoo saw a drop in their business in April and May because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shearer said that it began to recover in June and July, and is now back to normal, partly because of the platform’s Go Food integration.

In the future, Wahyoo may face competition from other warung-focused startups if they decided to expand their services to restaurants as well, and new startups that want to tap into the business opportunity offered by the 59.3 million small- to medium-sized businesses in Indonesia, many of which haven’t digitized their operations yet.

Shearer said Wahyoo’s value proposition is its portfolio of complementary services. “We are basically creating an ecosystem,” he added. “We are not only focusing on the supply chain, but also our own brand. We have the fried chicken brand and in the future we will tap into financial technology and the catering business as well.”

White Castle becomes the first fast food chain to test out the robot fry cook, Flippy, from Miso Robotics

The next time Harold and Kumar go to a White Castle, there may be a robot making their French Fries.

In one of the first trials of a robotic fry cook at a national burger chain, White Castle said it would work with Pasadena, Calif.-based Miso Robotics to test that company’s robotic chef at a restaurant in the Chicago area. It’s a  trial run for potentially bringing the robot to other White Castle kitchens across the country, the company said.

White Castle first began talking about using the Miso Robotics robots in its kitchens about nine months ago according to White Castle’s vice president of shareholder relations, Jamie Richardson. For the company, it was a question of, “How can we start to make the kitchen of tomorrow today?” 

Already a success on social media, where videos of Miso Robotics’ Flippy robot have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, White Castle was intrigued about the prospects of a burger flipping, chicken, onion, and french frying robot in its locations, Richardson said.

“I think automation is here to stay and this is the first example of a really large credible player starting down that journey,” said Miso Robotics chief executive Buck Jordan of the new collaboration with White Castle. 

White Castle has a fairly interesting track record when it comes to working with startups. The company was the first fast food chain to embrace Impossible Foods for its sliders.

At an undisclosed restaurant in the Chicago area, Miso Robotics is already working to install the latest version of its Flippy robot. The robotic fry cook will be integrated with the company’s point of sale system so that the robot can begin preparation as soon as an order is taken at the register.

That first robot will be coming online in September, according to Richardson.

And Richardson said that White Castle employees don’t need to worry about a robot coming for all of their jobs… yet. 

“It’s going to save us money in food costs because there will be less waste,” said Richardson.  “The other savings will be in terms of output… that’s going to be helpful.. If you maintain speed of service that’s getting a little bit better and a little better you do see more visits… that’s where we see it having the biggest impact… we’re not looking at this as a way to reduce people power.” 

A typical installation of a Miso Robotics system in a kitchen would cost a restaurant $30,000 upfront and then another $15,000 per year. However, with White Castle, the terms (which were undisclosed) were a little different.

Jordan said the goal is to bring the cost of the robotic system down to $15,000 for the entire system, obviating the need for any upfront costs, and convincing restaurants and franchisors that the robot can pay for itself right out of the gate.

There’s a clear path to getting that down to 20K,” said Jordan. “I’m trying to chisel that down to 15K,… at that kind of price and these things have lifetimes of seven to ten years we can afford to take the loss upfront.”

The robots have taken on new significance in the post COVID-19 era as restaurants like White Castle become essential services even as they struggle to keep the lights on with fewer customers. 

At White Castle that meant pay cuts for executives in order to retain staff. “We cut a lot of investment and we didn’t want to lose one job,” Richardson said. However, even with the strategic cuts, the implementation of at least this first robotic system remained a priority.

“There were things that we thought, COVID or no COVID were important,” Richardson said. “This project falls under that banner.”

White Castle’s decision to pilot Flippy in the kitchen creates an avenue for reduced human contact with food during the cooking process – reducing potential for transmission of food pathogens. The implementation also brings intelligence to cooking, tapping into sensors, intelligent monitoring and anticipated kitchen needs to keep food temperatures consistent, that ensure optimal quality and a perfect bite for customers. With Flippy in the kitchen automating repetitive, time consuming and dangerous tasks like frying, team members can be redeployed to more customer-experience driven tasks.

Image Credit: Miso Robotics

Mercato Partners just launched Savory, a $90 million fund focused on fueling fast-casual restaurant concepts

Mercato Partners, a 13-year-old, Salt Lake City, Utah-based investment firm that oversees a growth fund, a secondary investment fund and a venture fund, has launched yet another fund — this one a $90 million vehicle that the firm says will be used to invest in restaurant concepts that are gaining traction.

Its timing is interesting, given the devastating impacts of the coronavirus on the restaurant industry. Even so, deeper-pocketed chains have had a much easier time surviving the downturn according to the NPD Group, which tracks transactions for 70 quick-service, fast-casual and full-service restaurant chains.

Further, with as many as 30% of independent restaurants never expected to reopen their doors again, quick service restaurants that are already returning to pre-pandemic sales are poised to gather even more market share. (CNBC published related data on the restaurant industry’s recovery earlier this week that offers a fuller picture.)

Mercato’s new fund, dubbed Savory, is expected to provide initial checks to restaurant operators of $5 million to $10 million and to provide a host of services to fast fuel them, from advice about real estate to supply chain technologies to marketing. Indeed, the fund is being led by Mercato Managing Director Andrew Smith, who joined in late 2018 to help fundraise for the vehicle after spending a decade as CEO of Four Foods Group, a  restaurant development outfit that specialized in emerging brands and at one point oversaw 170 locations in 10 states.

Some of its brands have been folded into the new fund, in fact. Among them: the Hawaiian-themed restaurant chain Mo’ Bettahs, with three locations; the fast casual chain R&R BBQ, which has eight locations; and Swig, a chain of 22 soda bars throughout Utah.

Assuming its investments are tracking, Savory will also provide its portfolio companies up to $10 million in follow-on funding.

Mercato is far from the first investment outfit to join the fast-casual revolution. A number of growth investors has been actively backing newer brands, including KarpReilly, L. Catterton and Roark Capital.