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Oct 4, 2016

Fly My Pretties, Fly!!


Foodservice

Two blistering hot delivery stories in the news this week: Amazon Food in London and Chipotle/Alphabet delivering burritos at Virginia Tech via drone. I love drones. I love delivery because it accounts for less than 10% of traffic in every market we track but it seems to attract everyone's attention. It certainly gets a lot of press. I’m going with the drones.

Before I start, think about this: Have you actually been to a pizza restaurant to eat a pizza "on-premises" recently? The pizza is hot. Really hot. The cheese is like napalm. The whole experience adds up to an entirely different food from the thing we either pick up or have delivered. Yes, it's satisfying and convenient to have a restaurant-made pizza in the home. And, it has been so long for most us since we had one in a restaurant that we've forgotten what it's like. Eating at home or in the office or wherever is not the same as eating it in a restaurant is. Hold that thought.

One of the very thrilling aspects about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is that you get to be part of all the very cool things that online companies are trying to do. You can talk to Alexa and she'll have pizza or groceries or an Uber at your door in no time. You see Google and Amazon trucks running around delivering things in a jiffy. You see billboards advertising these magical services. Your Millennial kids talk about how great they are. It's like living in the future.

Unless you have a place near my wife’s office. Not South Bay. Not the Peninsula. Not exactly East Bay. Wannabee Silicon Valley. All equal distances from the three main airports. Frequently driving next to those massive private commuting buses. But not in a zip code that is cool enough for any of those cool things. To be fair, I once received an Amazon order a couple of hours after I placed it. I don't remember what it was but it made me feel very up on things all the same.

So, you'd think that if ANYONE is going to have burritos delivered by DRONE, it's going to be those people who drive past me in a giant bus on the 101. It's not going to be someone in Blacksburg, Virginia (a lovely town). Well, turns out you'd be wrong.

But let's think about the napalm cheese on a pizza. Everybody loves leftover pizza. It’s great for breakfast. It’s great as you’re putting it away after binging on Game of Thrones (although, everyone I know watched it week by week). That’s why it’s ok to have it delivered. It’s different, but it’s nearly as good in its tepid or cold states as it is when it is blistering hot out of the oven.

Not so much burritos. A quick survey of my Millennial focus group about the consumption of leftover burritos got some quick and serious feedback…as well as the hashtag #noburritoleftbehind. Some didn’t understand how a burrito could be left over. All agreed that a burrito could not be consumed later. There was some agreement that a burrito bowl, with the right ingredients, might be eaten later. You know why? Because burritos are only good when they are at their hottest and freshest.

All ate burritos last night.

All the action in delivery in recent years in the US market has been in the method of ordering. This has had the effect of sharply increasing the proportion of delivered goods that are NOT pizza. That was a problem waiting to be solved. Because of these cool new services, all the growth in delivery in the US has been non-pizza driven.

I feel old and cranky when I say this but, I’m not clear about the problem that is solved by delivering things with drones. Domino’s seems to have solved the “delivery problem” by having a bunch of people hanging around the stores. Uber Eats is roping bunches of people into piece-work labor. Amazon Restaurant is (if you live in a cool enough zip code) doing much the same thing as are other services all around the world with cars, scooters, bicycles, and feet.

However, looking at the traffic in Shanghai, Sao Paolo, or any number of cities around the world, I can see the motivation to find some other way of getting around. So, it’s bound to come no matter what I think. And, if you spent any time in Shanghai, you know that it won't be long before people are sending their kids to school hanging from a drone.

So, now I’m imagining a catering kitchen or even an old K Mart converted into bunches of micro-kitchens that prepare food to go that has been ordered through different apps. On the roof lives the drone operator who loads the devices, incanting “fly my pretties, fly” as he sends off wave after wave of self-guided flying robots.

I love looking at a bunch of people after an event standing at the curb, looking down at their smart phones and then looking left, right or center to see their Ubers arrive. This will now be complemented with a bunch of people standing outside their doors, smart phones in hand, scanning the sky for the arrival of their dinners.

O brave new world.


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