We will all be poor, fat, and buried in plastic.
We previously asked Will the kitchen get Ubered out of existence? We noted before that the way we eat is changing, and the design of kitchens is changing too. One consultant noted that cooking is being reduced to "a niche activity that a few people do only some of the time." This has led to an explosion in food delivery services and more recently, cloud kitchens, where food for delivery is prepared in commercial kitchens that are not connected to restaurants.
Out of one single store, we run many different menu concepts that customers see as different restaurants when they order online via food couriers… Our goal is to have a location every four miles in every major city in North America so that we may provide all our concepts/menus to customers within thirty minutes.
George Kottas of Ghost Kitchens USA tells the Globe and Mail how he keeps costs down: “No chefs – I have 19-year-olds who have never worked in a kitchen. I can train them within a week and they can handle 12 different types of menus without having any experience.”
Uber Eats is getting into making food as well as delivering it, but they are not inventing names, just licensing them; they just announced a virtual restaurant, Rachael Ray to Go. Ray has written cookbooks, magazines and done TV. She tells Bloomberg:
“A sardine sandwich, a four-day porchetta, I could never teach that on my show, or in my magazine,” Ray says. “A virtual restaurant gives me a more specific relationship to people in my audience. It’s me, joining people for dinner.”
So we go from watching people cook on TV, not to learn how to make it, but to help decide what to order. The business is already huge. According to Bloomberg:
Online food delivery is projected to be worth $161.7 billion globally by 2023. Uber Eats generated $3.39 billion in gross bookings in the second quarter of 2019, up 91% from the second quarter of 2018. The company’s first virtual restaurants opened in Chicago in early 2017; they now have more than 5,500 globally and over 2,100 in the U.S. and Canada.
And every bit of it is delivered in tons of single-use plastic packaging, by people who are notoriously underpaid and often cheated, as the recent DoorDash scandal demonstrated. The food is oversized, oversalted, oversweetened, and certainly overpackaged.
It’s even being containerized. Parking lot operator REEF is now a tech company, REEF Technology, and has developed a shipping-container commercial kitchen that can be dropped in their parking lots. It's funded by Softbank, the Japanese investor famously behind WeWork and Uber. According to the press release,
State-of-the-art kitchens are housed in proprietary containers, with each one able to accommodate from one to five restaurant brands or concepts. Restaurants can run operations directly or contract with REEF to staff and prepare delivery-only menu items. REEF KITCHENS have launched successful operations in Miami and London with plans to open several hundred operational kitchens across leading markets in North America and the U.K.
What does this all say for the future of food? As one commenter noted in my last post on this subject, people who eat this way are going to end up fat and poor. But if this trend continues, it’s likely that pretty soon our kitchens will be little more than reheating and recycling centers.