Food, Glorious Food! IoT and the Restaurant Delivery Market

Posted by on Jul 13, 2017, 5:00:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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The Internet of Things is fast becoming popular in the food delivery sector, primarily driven by pizza chains such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut. Using a smart phone, a customer can order a pizza, get an estimated time for delivery, watch the order being made via a webcam, and get a real-time update of when it will arrive. Delivery personnel (even new ones unfamiliar with the area) will know the exact customer location—eliminating time lost to confusing/unclear addresses. Payment and tipping are handled through the app, making the delivery process even more efficient.

The good news is big corporations, even those in the delivery business such as UberEats, aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of the technology. The low cost and relatively simple deployment process of IoT-enabled devices mean virtually any restaurant or delivery service can offer smart delivery. After all, the number of ‘mom and pop’ restaurants, including local chains, is far greater than those owned or franchised by large companies, and that represents a great opportunity for IoT providers. Vendors can offer turnkey, smart-enabled solutions that can be up and running in no time—without impacting ongoing operations.

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Other business models abound in this space, with more being introduced every year. Researchers at Columbia University are designing a smart food storage box similar to Amazon’s locker concept. Designed to eliminate long waits at food trucks and during peak restaurant times, the box doubles as a warmer and a delivery appliance. Customers place an order via a smart phone, preferably prior to rush time. The app generates a quick response (QR) code and a notification of when the order will be ready. The restaurant then fulfills the order and places it in a smart box that continually heats or cools the order until it is picked up.

Rather than wait in line, the customer (or delivery person) simply uses the QR code to open the box and retrieve the order. This enables delivery staff to better plan their schedules and offer more efficient service, even during rush times, in addition to the time-saving benefit customers enjoy. The box itself is self-monitoring and will send alerts if the order is not picked up during a pre-determined time period, or if the food potentially is going bad.

Similarly, a company in San Francisco is rolling out IoT-enabled robot delivery. Customers place a prepaid smart phone order and are then sent a code that unlocks the robot’s cargo bin. The robot then aggregates various orders and delivers them via the most efficient route possible. While still in its infancy, these ‘last mile’ delivery solutions incorporating robots (and possibly drones) have huge market potential. (Last mile refers to the distance between a restaurant and the customer’s home.) Robotics investment firm Maven Ventures estimates human delivery costs account for 80% of expenses incurred by delivery services, such as Instacart.

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Another delivery twist comes from a company near Aeris headquarters in Santa Clara called JoyRun. They offer a peer-to-peer food and drinks delivery app that maximizes human behavior patterns. Hungry/thirsty people now can locate a ‘runner’, someone who is heading to the same restaurant at the same time, and tack on a prepaid order of their own. The runner either can deliver the order for free (like someone working in the same office) or accept a delivery charge. The theory is that people can make money doing something they already are doing—picking up an order.  

Like a lot of sectors, the restaurant delivery business is both ripe for IoT innovation and for out-of-the-box thinking. By starting to think about the problem first, rather than the solution, you can tap into unmet demand and reap the rewards.

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Topics: IoT and food, smart food, food delivery, restaurant delivery