The Contactless Restaurant and Other Food Tech News

We’ve previously written about Muy Tech, a Colombian cloud kitchen startup. Last year the company raised nearly $20 million to further a vision once described as “cloud kitchen meets Chipotle.”

Now we’ve learned how the company is putting that investment to use. In a development well suited to our times, Muy Tech has launched a “contactless restaurant” in Bogotá.

According to an article in Contexto, a tech publication focused on Latin America, the new restaurant promises literally zero human interaction. Consumers order and pay at a kiosk. Then when the order is ready, they collect their food from a designated locker within the establishment. There is staff on hand to handle any problem that can be summoned with a bell.

Muy Tech is piloting the contactless concept in Bogotá. It hopes to expand into other markets around Latin America.

Pros and Cons of Ghost Dining

As we’ve written before, the ghost (or cloud) kitchen concept has considerable appeal. It offers efficiencies to restaurant brands that want to expand their takeout business without adding new stores. And it allows dining entrepreneurs an opportunity to launch a restaurant with a much lower operating cost. It certainly feels like a concept suited for the COVID era, even though its inception and operating premise predate the pandemic.

But there are also some gaps in the concept that may not be fillable. First, the cost benefits of opening a virtual restaurant may be offset by higher marketing costs. After all, a restaurant’s physical location is a big part of its marketing. That gets lost with the virtual concept.

Of course, the Muy Tech contactless restaurant is an actual restaurant. Minus the human contact. In this sense, it is an offshoot of the ghost kitchen concept. But it’s not the same thing.

The completely contactless dining experience that Muy Tech is creating has obvious appeal during COVID, and perhaps well beyond for misanthropes and germaphobes. But there is a soullessness to the concept that may limit its scope and range. The Muy vision sounds fine for a grab-and-go lunch. It’s just not as appealing on date night.

TouchBistro Acquires TableUp

Another food tech-related story we noticed this week involved the restaurant point of sale player TouchBistro. The Toronto-based company has acquired Boston-based TableUp, a restaurant loyalty marketing startup, for an undisclosed sum. TableUp’s technology will drive TouchBistro Loyalty, a soon-to-be-launched customer relationship management (CRM), marketing, and loyalty solution. The new product will fully integrate with the TouchBistro POS platform.

“Now, more than ever, restaurateurs need an effective and affordable way to promote their restaurants to new and existing customers so they can bring them back again and again. Through our acquisition of TableUp, we can fully integrate these capabilities into the TouchBistro platform to help restaurants turn one-time customers into loyal patrons,” says Alex Barrotti, founder and CEO of TouchBistro, in a statement. “The TableUp team are experts in restaurant CRM, loyalty, and guest engagement. And, like all of us, they are deeply passionate about the industry and the success of their customers.”

The COVID Effect

In many respects, the pandemic has been good for SaaS, at least temporarily. We’ve seen adoption rates spike for solutions that help SMBs work remotely, for example. Plus, eCommerce and contactless payment solutions have also been right for the moment.

Restaurants, however, have been decimated by the pandemic. And the SaaS companies that have been building products to help restaurants operate more efficiently haven’t been spared. Even TouchBistro, which has raised $225 million in funding to date, furloughed 23 percent of its team back in April.

So it comes as little surprise that news like this is beginning to roll in. We expect to see more of the better-funded players in restaurant tech take advantage of the current environment to roll up competitors or complementary players to strengthen their teams, improve their underlying tech, or consolidate the field. We’ve already started to see this in the food delivery space with the UberEats acquisition of Postmates, for example.

Localogy has issued a report citing its Modern Commerce Monitor™ Wave V-III results to examine how restaurants have been using tech to manage through the COVID crisis.

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