In this special edition of its 5 Things series, Food Management highlights five recent technology-related developments affecting the foodservice world.
Here’s your list for today:
- NASCAR debuts “virtual restaurant” for at-home fans
The NASCAR Refuel virtual restaurant, which allows fans to order and enjoy iconic NASCAR concession stand favorites in their homes from a dozen NASCAR-owned racetracks around the country, debuted recently during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Wawa 250 at Daytona International Speedway. Characterized as the first-ever virtual restaurant brand paired with a national spectator sporting organization, NASCAR Refuel is the product of a partnership among virtual restaurant brand creator Virtual Dining Concepts, NASCAR and DoorDash, which is the service's exclusive ordering platform through its own app or via the NASCAR Refuel app and the official website, both powered by the DoorDash Drive fulfillment platform. The delivery-only menu features “Refuel Combos” and individual items, including classics such as the Daytona Firecracker Dog, Talla-Mento Dogwich, Darlington Pimento Cheese Sandwich and Refuel Burger.
Read more: NASCAR Refuel virtual restaurant now available
- Sodexo to pilot 3D-printed vegan burgers at universities
Israeli startup SavorEat, a maker of 3D-printed, plant-based “meat” alternatives, has signed an agreement with Sodexo to launch a pilot project offering the startup’s kosher, vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free burger patties in U.S. universities. SavorEat’s 3D printer is likened to a “robot chef” that is capable of making the product according to specifications with varying amounts of protein, fat, cellulose, water and flavors and colorings that can then be cooked or grilled while making the same “sizzling sounds” and smells as meat does.
Read more: Israel’s SavorEat to launch US pilot offering 3D-printed, plant-based burgers
- Restaurant offers virtual reality dining experience
A new restaurant called iChina opened recently in California with a 360 Virtual Reality private dining room that features imagery from eight projectors and a sensor-enabled table to create a virtual reality dining experience based on the dinner being served. During a seafood course, for example, the display might feature an ocean-themed projection. With a food/beverage minimum for booking the room of $4,500, this is obviously not something for most dining service programs at present, but it is an example of the kind of cutting-edge technology emerging at the high end of the commercial market that could eventually become practical and affordable for a wider market.
Read more: Valley Fair’s swanky newcomer: iChina restaurant opens with Silicon Valley’s first virtual-reality dining room
- Study: customers prefer human restaurant staff over tech alternatives
Technological solutions may be proliferating in the foodservice world—especially in the commercial QSR sector—but a recent survey by the JLL professional services firm seems to indicate that many customers are not especially satisfied with that, as 57% of the 1,003 demographically representative U.S. adults it queried said they believe restaurant employees have more control over their experience than the brand itself. More specifically, 54% said they prefer working with staff for navigating the menu, 59% for customizing orders, 50% for paying for the order and 63% for receiving the order.
Read more: Essential Workers: Employees & the Quick Service Restaurant Brand Experience
- Compass unit launches digital-only restaurant at major British zoo
Restaurant Associates Venues, a British unit of Compass Group, launched its first digital-only restaurant at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, the largest zoo in the United Kingdom, in late July, where the Time 2 Eat app allows guests to browse menus and select final orders to eat at the onsite Base Camp restaurant. “Making lunch time easy and enjoyable for families is essential and the new contactless restaurant will allow parents to order ahead of time and skip any queues when visiting the Zoo’s 10,000 animals," said the zoo's commercial manager, Chris Webb.
Read more: Restaurant Associates Venues launches first digital-only restaurant at Whipsnade Zoo
Bonus: College Chef Showcase: Chicken tender ghost kitchen a big win at University of Mary Washington
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]