MRM #RestaurantTech: Plate IQ Closes Seed Funding, Avanti Launches Cloud-Based Mobile Ordering and Flippy the Robot

by MRM Staff 22 Min Read

The intersection of hospitality and technology is evolving at a rapid pace. To keep a pulse on these trends, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine launched a MRM #RestaurantTech column. To submit items, contact MRM Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com. 

Plate IQ Closes Seed Funding

Plate IQ, which helps restaurants manage their food inventory and pay their bills more efficiently, closed $4 million in seed funding led by Eileses Capital. The investment will be used to expand into additional markets. Plate IQ platform transforms back-office operations with accounts payable automation, food costs analytics, bill pay, inventory and recipe costing tools solutions for the restaurant industry mostly focus on the front of the house.

"We're fundamentally changing how restaurants operate," said Bhavuk Kaul, CEO at Plate IQ Technology. "Ultimately, our goal is to completely remove all of the manual and costly back-office work, enabling restaurants to focus all their time and energy on delivering an outstanding customer experience."

Current users include Nobu, Thomas Keller Group (The French Laundry), Mixt, Vino Volo, Quince, Tender Greens, Thomas Keller Group, The Plant Cafe, and NOHO. Other investors include Initialized Capital, Restaurant Groups, Y-combinator Continuity Fund and Tamares Group. T. Plate IQ processes more than 150,000 invoices worth more than $50M each month, tracks prices of over 500K SKUs from 14,000 vendors. 

One example is The Plant Cafe Organic, a San Francisco-based group set out to promote well-being through 100 percent organic and local ingredients. The Plant’s Accounts Payable process was draining valuable time and energy from the group’s core business. As The Plant expanded to seven locations across the greater Bay Area, it became tremendously time consuming to manually enter invoices into its accounting system. Several dedicated Accounts Payable positions were needed in the finance department, and the company’s CFO had to split time between regular responsibilities and data analysis. There was no easy way to keep track of the weekly fluctuations in the company’s single biggest business expense - food costs. Plate IQ’s Accounts Payable feature  allowed the company to automatically digitize and map each line of every invoice straight into QuickBooks. The Plant has saved $150,000 in labor costs in the first year alone with Plate IQ. The company’s CFO can now refocus energy on high-level financial strategy because data analysis is automated. Recipes costs across all seven cafes can be calculated on the fly—a nightmare of a task before. And managers are alerted to price changes for key ingredients as they happen.

Avanti Launches Cloud-Based Mobile Ordering

Avanti Commerce launched its software as a cloud-based platform, making mobile ordering and payment possible for any restaurant chain. Consumer demand for mobile ordering and payment continues to soar. Avanti’s newly launched platform will directly address this emerging need, allowing restaurants of any size to establish a mobile ordering offering. 

No stranger to the space, the leadership behind Avanti was involved in initial trials of mobile commerce for Starbucks, Panera Bread and McDonald’s. With Subway® Restaurants, Avanti built and launched a sophisticated, global mobile ordering platform, in a franchised environment, with multiple payment and POS systems. Avanti has now tailored their platform, taken the most powerful parts of it and adapted it for use among restaurants of any size, from large international chains to small local coffee shops.

The Avanti platform offers the following unique features:

  • The fast, secure platform can be up and running in a matter of weeks, including customized brand, menu and design incorporation, without having to invest in creating the technology and infrastructure from scratch.
  • The platform is not limited by size, traffic or location and can work for any brand at any scale.
  • It can be extended seamlessly to multiple currencies and multiple languages.
  • It is delivered at a price point for everyone, starting at a basic plan and allowing brands to add the features they need.
  • The platform can be used across multiple channels (“omni-channel”), increasing the customer’s experience.

“We’ve been working in the mobile space since 1999, when we were involved in the first North American mobile commerce trials for some of the biggest brands,” said Jason Strashek, Avanti founder and CEO. “Mobile ordering is no longer just a shiny ‘nice to have’ capability for businesses - it’s becoming a necessity for the fast-moving modern consumer and a powerful way to drive engagement and sales.”

As part of the company’s launch, James Christensen has been brought onto the management team as VP of Business Development. “I am excited to be joining a company that has been at the forefront of mobile commerce for nearly two decades, and can’t wait to bring my expertise to the table to help contribute to the ongoing success of the company.”

ShopKeep Acquires ChowBOT

ShopKeep, the cloud-based technology solution that transforms an iPad into a smart, connected cash register that is used by more than 23,000 small businesses, today announced that it has acquired the online ordering software, ChowBOT™, from Meerchant™. The acquisition serves to enable online ordering, payment and delivery options for ShopKeep’s 8,500 and growing quick-serve (QSR) and full service restaurant and bars (FSRB).

Through the acquisition, ChowBOT’s features will be directly integrated into ShopKeep’s POS system, providing QSR and FSRB merchants the ability to sync their POS menu to their individual online order site, where customers can make their order selections, complete payment and select between onsite pick-up, curbside pickup, or delivery to receive their purchase. The software will seamlessly connect to ShopKeep’s cloud based platform, ensuring online order details are automatically submitted to the restaurant and further enabling merchants to use third-party on-demand delivery service providers, such as UberRUSH or Postmates, to manage the delivery process.

“It can be especially challenging for restaurants in the SMB category to offer their customers online order and delivery options – they are often stuck choosing between paying steep costs for the capability, relinquishing control of the customer experience or not having an online presence at all,” said Michael DeSimone, Chief Executive Officer, ShopKeep. “The integration of ChowBOT to our platform allows them to easily offer these features, cutting down the barriers to entry by helping them effectively and successfully bridge their online presence with the physical experience they provide customers.”

ChowBOT software will be made available to ShopKeep customers in 2018.

SimpleDeal Launches Nationwide

SimpleDeal, a  point-and-tap mobile app that calls up restaurant deals, has launched in New York City and re-launched in Long Beach, CA.  The app allows users to point their phones at any restaurant and tap a button to see the restaurant’s daily deals and menu specials.  Whether it be a percentage discount off or a two for one special, SimpleDeal lists all deals available to restaurant goers at that exact moment, at that exact location.  

"There are some tremendous apps out there that help restaurants win business from consumers that are far away, but no one is helping them market to the thousands of pedestrians that pass their locations each day,” said Founder James McKinney. “With our patented technology, we allow consumers to point their phone at a location and with the push of a single button see everything that restaurant has to offer at that exact moment in time. SimpleDeal is providing a way to give consumers all the information they want at the very moment.”

The SimpleDeal App is free to users and operates via a phones GPS and Accelerometer to pick up exact location and orientation. Once a phone is pointed, a photo of the restaurant appear and consumers only need to tap a button in order to see that restaurant’s current deals and offerings. If a restaurant is not a participating location, SimpleDeal will show current restaurant deals in the consumer's surrounding location. The app also enables users to have access to items such as the restaurants wait time, operation hours, and menus.

SimpleDeal



Participating restaurants can list for free with one single deal or a fee of $19.99 per month to post multiple deals.  For $39.99 per month, restaurant marketers can load in as many deals or offerings as they would like and have the ability to change deals daily, see reporting and send out specific deals tailored to individual customers. 

SimpleDeal founder James McKinney partnered with Christian Rossi, who has previously worked on projects such as Pokemon GO, Google Earth, Niantic Labs, and Call of Duty Black Ops, to develop the app.  It is compatible with iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches requiring iOs 9.0 or later and Androids requiring 4.1 and up. 

The company is also launching a strategic partnership with award-winning food service equipment company Chefs’ Toys, one of the largest restaurant equipment and commercial kitchen supply dealers in the U.S. The opportunity will provide immediate reach for the SimpleDeal Mobile App to thousands of restaurants working with Chefs’ Toys. Current customers of the food service equipment company will have the immediate opportunity to test drive the SimpleDeal Mobile App via their gold level platform, free of charge, for a 90 day period. 

“Foodservice operators have a myriad of operational challenges. Marketing is certainly one of them. They are always looking for ways to fill their seats cost-effectively”, said Jim Wendt, Director of Marketing at Chefs’ Toys. “The 1-to-1 interaction that SimpleDeal Mobile App offers has the potential to be a valuable business development tool for restaurants. It offers a positive way of interacting with customers, which could be a nice alternative to some of the online review sites out there where it can be exceptionally difficult to manage and control your restaurants messaging.”

"Chefs' Toys has been a valued service provider to the foodservice industry for over 28 years," added  James McKinney, Founder of SimpleDeal. "At the core of SimpleDeal we are about helping restaurants strengthen their 1-to-1 relationships with a direct to customer managed platform. It only made sense for us to partner with Chefs' Toys.  As veterans within the restaurant and food service industry, they fully understand the importance of providing restaurants within their local communities the tools needed to be successful. Just as the right foodservice supplies are necessary for day-to-day success, strong and effective marketing platforms such as SimpleDeal strengthen long-term profits. For that reason, being seen as a value-added partner and ally to industry icon Chefs' Toys enables us to really be seen and validates our position within the restaurant space.”

Toast Survey

POS provider Toast is conducting a restaurant marketing survey. Take the quick 12-question survey and you'll be entered to win 1 of 10 Amazon gift cards for $25. The survey is about restaurants in 2017 and is exclusive to restaurant owners, managers, executives, and leaders.

To participate in the survey, click here.


Texas de Brazil Joins Dinova

Dinova, Inc., the only  proprietary marketplace exclusively focused on connecting expense account diners to quality restaurants nationwide, said Texas de Brazil has joined Dinova's exclusive business dining marketplace.

Vic Macchio

"We pride ourselves in delivering a diverse restaurant network to our business diners, and having a unique concept like Texas de Brazil gives them a great option for a fun and interactive business meal" said Vic Macchio CEO and founder of Dinova. "Texas de Brazil is thrilled to offer our unique dining experience to the participating business diners within the Dinova network," stated Salim Asrawi, COO. "We feel the value of our concept and quality of product, makes us an ideal addition to the preferred restaurant marketplace, and we are looking forward to building long-lasting relationships and providing many memorable experiences to the guests."   

With the recent announcement of a $6 billion marketplace, Dinova continues to add increasingly diverse restaurant concepts to its more than 14,000 locations nationwide. The addition of Texas de Brazil is just one indicator of the substantial growth Dinova continues to achieve in 2017.

TouchBistro and Thinking Capital Partner

TouchBistro and Thinking Capital have partnered to offer restaurants a way to secure financing that can be used for operating capital or to fund business growth. Restaurateurs across Canada that are using the TouchBistro point-of-sale (POS) system can now conveniently apply for financing from Thinking Capital through their TouchBistro account portal.

Thinking Capital provides small and mid-size businesses, including restaurants, with access to alternative sources of financing. The company uses proprietary data and algorithms to make lending decisions based on how well a business is run and its resulting cash flow. Thinking Capital has provided financing to thousands of restaurants across Canada over the past ten years, and can evaluate a business and its operations in as little as 24 hours to get restaurants the capital they need.

"By partnering with TouchBistro, more restaurateurs across the country will now know that there is an alternate source of financing available to help them grow their business," said Anthony Lipschitz, Chief Strategy Officer at Thinking Capital. "In addition to being the gold standard for POS software for restaurants, TouchBistro is a peer in this market that also embraces the same technology-first approach as we do, making them an ideal partner."

Thinking Capital will be promoted by TouchBistro as a partner that makes it easier to secure and access financing for restaurant owners. While this partnership will introduce Thinking Capital to restaurants that are more likely to be highly qualified for funding, the long-term vision for this partnership is to connect the two technology platforms to drive even faster and more accurate decision-making in providing restaurateur access to capital. The partnership between these two industry leading and innovative Canadian companies gives restaurateurs access to essential tools and resources to take their businesses to entirely new levels of growth and success. It also reinforces TouchBistro's position as the all-in-one solution for restaurants.

"Thinking Capital is a trusted source for Canada's small and mid-size business owners that need fast and easy access to financing to help fund their operations or support their growth. By enabling restaurants to apply for financing online and receive a decision so quickly, provides a significant advantage to the many restaurateurs we work with that are looking to invest in their growth," said Alex Barrotti, CEO and founder of TouchBistro. "Thinking Capital is a strategic addition to our portfolio of partners. We know that our customers will greatly appreciate that they provide financing based on how well a restaurant is run, rather than the personal assets and credit rating of the restaurant owner. This approach truly acknowledges the value and hard work restaurateurs bring to the table."

Flippy the Robot Starts Work

Miso Robotics and Cali Group unveiled Flippy, an artificial intelligence-driven robot that will work alongside kitchen staff to grill burgers at CaliBurger restaurants. Flippy had its debut at the CaliBurger location in Pasadena, California. Flippy will roll out in early 2018 and expand to more than 50 CaliBurger restaurants worldwide by the end of 2019.

Miso Robotics promotes the use of computer vision and deep learning software to bring low-cost, adaptable robotics into restaurants. The company's collaborative kitchen assistant handles the hazardous, tedious and time-sensitive aspects of grilling and cooks burgers to perfection every time. While artificial intelligence is being successfully tested and employed to drive cars, manage the home and message with customers, Miso Robotics is the first company to bring robotics and AI into the kitchen in a meaningful way.

"Much like self-driving vehicles, our system continuously learns from its experiences to improve over time," said David Zito, CEO of Miso Robotics. "Though we are starting with the relatively 'simple' task of cooking burgers, our proprietary AI software allows our kitchen assistants to be adaptable and therefore can be trained to help with almost any dull, dirty or dangerous task in a commercial kitchen — whether it's frying chicken, cutting vegetables or final plating."

According to the National Association of Restaurants, consumers are spending more on food outside the home than ever before. Yet despite rapid growth, the restaurant industry is plagued with inefficiencies. In 2016, turnover of restaurant workers reached an all time high at 113 percent.

"The application of artificial intelligence to robotic systems that work next to our employees in CaliBurger restaurants will allow us to make food faster, safer and with fewer errors," said John Miller, Chairman of Cali Group. "Our investment in Miso Robotics is part of our broader vision for creating a unified operating system that will control all aspects of a restaurant from in-store interactive gaming entertainment to automated ordering and cooking processes, 'intelligent' food delivery and real-time detection of operating errors and pathogens."

The integration of Miso Robotics into CaliBurger's kitchens will allow the chain to redeploy some of its staff to the dining room to engage more with customers. CaliBurger will also collaborate with Miso Robotics to retrain certain staff to operate Flippy.  

Great Harvest Teams with Buxton

Great Harvest Bread Company, a franchised bakery with more than 220 signed locations across the United States, has partnered with Buxton to identify growth opportunities for its new bakery and café concept. The company will also utilize LSMx, a local store marketing tool powered by Buxton's customer analytics, to empower franchisees to execute targeted local marketing campaigns.

"Great Harvest offers our customers and franchisees a truly unique experience that is revolutionizing the bakery industry," said Eric Keshin, president of Great Harvest. "Buxton will be an invaluable resource as we introduce the Great Harvest bakery and café to new markets across the country, and LSMx will provide our franchisees with an effective marketing tool to reach new customers."

"Whether identifying markets for growth or stimulating sales at existing locations, customer analytics play an important role," said Stephen Polanski, senior vice president at Buxton. "We look forward to working with Great Harvest and being a part of the brand's continued success."

FoodFaves Debut

FoodFaves a free mobile app that allows restaurants to pull in potential customers by posting their very best food photos, debuted.  Users see delectable dishes in the app’s image “Feed”  and read the descriptions. Once they’re salivating, they’ll see the restaurant’s information with one click, including a map that directs them right to the restaurant’s front door.

Think Instagram meets GrubHub, but with a twist.

Social food influencers will also drive business with the FoodFaves app. In addition to restaurants, foodies have profiles too, and they love to post pictures and descriptions of their “FoodFaves,” along with a restaurant’s info.

Your audience can now download FoodFaves to their iPhones on the app store, create a restaurant’s profile (or a chef profile) and start posting their most crave-worthy culinary creations, complete with hashtags and restaurant/business information. 

Culinary Software Offers New Seamless EDI

Culinary Software Services is offering a new seamless electronic data interchange (EDI) services with Maines Paper & Food Service, Inc. and FreshPoint Produce. EDI services for other broadline food distributors, such as Sysco, US Foods, Performance Foodservice, Pratts Wholesale Limited, Reinhart Foodservice, UNFI, and Upper Lakes are already available, providing CorTec and ChefTec users powerful time-saving tools for tracking costs and ordering.

Previously, all Maines and FreshPoint ordering was completed through a separate online program or as a paper and pencil process. These EDI interface services will now enable CorTec and ChefTec to electronically and seamlessly place orders directly to Maines or FreshPoint. In addition, the interface will electronically confirm orders and provide invoices, without leaving the CorTec and ChefTec software program.

"EDI interface functionality is a win-win situation for the foodservice industry," stated Brian Bennett, president of Culinary Software Services. "Not only does it save ChefTec users money, but it also reduces time spent on purchasing and ordering by up to five times. In today's economy, it's vital for foodservice operations to find ways to save time and money while streamlining back-of-the-house processes."

Caviar Adds Pickup Feature

Caviar introduced Caviar pickup, a new feature that lets diners order ahead and skip the line to pick up their food at their favorite restaurants. Caviar, which partners directly with more than 3,000 restaurants across the U.S., is a high-quality food ordering platform that offers restaurant delivery to individuals and groups of all sizes. The new pickup feature is launching in San Francisco, the East Bay, Los Angeles, and Portland, and will soon expand to customers in all Caviar markets across the country. 

“We've been using Caviar pickup in beta for the last several weeks and it's definitely revealed an opportunity for sizable new volume in terms of mobile orders,” said Evan Kidera, President of Señor Sisig, a popular food truck in the Bay Area. “We understand how valuable our customers' time is, and we recognize that our often long lines can be intimidating for new customers wanting to try our food. We see the incredible potential that Caviar pickup presents and we're thrilled to offer our customers more options to experience Señor Sisig on the go.”

Square also announced  the company’s acquisition of OrderAhead’s pickup business, a convenient service that allows anyone to save time and discover local restaurants by quickly ordering food for takeout straight from their phone.

“OrderAhead’s expertise in improving the restaurant ordering process for busy diners and businesses is a great fit for Caviar and our commitment to helping restaurants grow,” said Gokul Rajaram, Caviar Lead at Square. “This addition will accelerate Caviar pickup and give more food ordering options to diners across the country.”

Epson and Onosys Partner 

Epson America, Inc., a supplier of value-added Point of Sale (POS) solutions, has partnered with Onosys, provider of a digital ordering platforms for restaurants, to deliver a complete end-to-end next generation mobile POS restaurant experience. The partnership will enable Onosys customers to take advantage of the real-time, actionable data generated by Epson's OmniLink® Merchant Services (OMS) platform. 

"Our partnership with Epson helps restaurants transform their mobile and online ordering experience," said David DiPasquale, CRO at Onosys. "The restaurant industry is highly competitive, and together we provide a one-stop mobile POS solution allowing restaurants to more effectively leverage all the components needed to run a successful and profitable operation."  

"Onosys is Epson's first certified digital ordering partner and we are in the process of rolling out our integrated solution to several major restaurant brands today," said Gregg Brunnick director of product management for POS printers and robotics, Epson America Inc. "These brands will have the ability to leverage Onosys' fully customizable, enterprise digital ordering platform along with advanced analytics, sourced from our OmniLink receipt printer data, independent of their POS system."

The Onosys platform leverages the Epson OMS Cloud to deliver orders to the OmniLink printer. The Epson Cloud and OmniLink printers can also support order routing and order handling.  

Chowbotics Receives Funding

Food robotics company Chowbotics received $5 million of Series A funding from Techstars Ventures, Foundry Group, Galvanize Ventures and the Geekdom Fund. The company also announced a name change from Casabots to Chowbotics.  Foundry Group is considered one of the leading hardware investors in the United States, with past investments in Fitbit, Makerbot, FormLabs, Sphero and Occipital. Techstars Ventures is considered a leading early stage investment firm, with seed investments in Twilio, Uber, SendGrid and Sphero.

"The use of robotics in food service is an exciting new area. We believe Chowbotics is the number one company in this emerging space and are thrilled to invest in its growth," said Jason Mendelson of The Foundry Group.

Chowbotics uses robots to solve several problems in food service including compromised cleanliness and inefficiency. It is targeting cafeterias, restaurants and hotels. Its first robot, Sally, offers fully-customized, fresh and healthy salads. Sally's proprietary technology dispenses measured quantities of more than 20 ingredients – refreshed daily – to create a ready-to-eat meal any time of day. The technology, with several patents pending, is also applicable to other cuisines, such as Mexican and Indian, and respective robots will follow.

"Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed, and we've been working with Chowbotics since their early days in the Techstars Austin accelerator. We've been incredibly impressed with their progress. We invested in their Seed Round and are excited to invest in their Series A," says David Cohen, Founder and co-CEO of Techstars. Cohen and Mendelson will join Chowbotics' Board of Directors.

Chowbotics raised its seed funding round of $1.3M from the Central Texas Angel Network, Techstars Ventures, Galvanize Ventures, Geekdom Fund, v1 and an owner of 15 McDonald's restaurants.

Punchh Adds Feature

Punchh, a cloud-based technology platform that builds engagement, loyalty and superior, customized experiences in the restaurant industry, today announced the launch of a new offering that allows consumers to earn and redeem points with restaurant loyalty programs and order food, by using messaging apps. This is the first time the technology is being used beyond just ordering to engage with customers via restaurant loyalty programs.

A “chatbot” mimics human conversation using technology based on artificial intelligence, and enables consumers to engage with restaurants using platforms like Facebook Messenger, voice-based applications like Amazon’s Alexa and others. Punchh’s Chatbot integrates quickly and simply into existing point-of-sale systems, as well as loyalty and ordering programs. The addition of chatbot technology is an extension of Punchh’s strategy which enables consumers to connect with their favorite restaurants across any channel, whether it be mobile apps, point-of-sale, kiosk, as well as websites.

"Consumers love to use messaging and voice-based apps like Facebook Messenger and Alexa,” said Shyam Rao, CEO of Punchh. "With our new technology, we are meeting consumers where they already are and offering an entirely new way to connect and engage with their favorite restaurants. And this is only the beginning of what is possible for restaurants using chatbot technology.”

In the future, through Punchh, customers will also be able to pay for purchases, provide feedback, take surveys, redeem gift cards, play games and more using messaging apps. Restaurants can learn about and predict consumer behavior, and can then personalize and target offers to members, which can then be redeemed through any channel.

“We see chatbots as the next big thing in restaurant loyalty programs,” said Jeff Zuckerman, Chief Marketing Officer of PizzaRev. “We are excited to be one of the first to embrace this cutting-edge technology, and believe it is going to give us a fun, new, relevant way to connect with our customers. We look forward to rolling it out soon.”

Punchh, whose clients include more than 75 restaurant chains such as TGI Fridays International, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Quiznos and Smashburger is the first platform that bridges the gap between restaurants and customers, empowering restaurants to shape personalized offers that attract and engage more meaningfully with loyal customers. Punchh modernizes customer engagement programs within weeks, offering the ability to segment customers, predict customer behavior, create and execute targeted campaigns, and track performance in real-time.

When I Work Unveils WorkChat

When I Work unveiled WorkChat, a new and secure team messaging service that enables small- and mid-sized businesses to discuss and agree to schedules, shift-swapping, vacation plans, availability and more. The service is designed to improve the quality of these interactions and allows users to communicate easily, immediately, and remotely with an entire work team, in smaller groups or, in the case of multi-location businesses, by location.

Ramping to become the Slack for the hourly workforce, WorkChat fosters community and builds a sense of culture in small- to medium-sized businesses — often elusive as today’s hourly workers are rarely all in the same physical place at the same time. The latest addition to the all-in-one employee management platform When I Work provides for its customers, WorkChat enables users to share photos (ideal for training), ask for last-minute help, and discuss common issues — without divulging personal phone numbers or information to their co-workers, providing a big advantage over text messaging and SMS feeds for time-pressed hourly workers and business owners.

"WorkChat brings a more exciting and vibrant vibe to our workplace,” said James Westbrook, PSA Manager at Pacifica Honolulu, a When I Work customer. “Trying to send a message to all of my employees at once used to be a real challenge…now we use WorkChat to communicate with each other, voice our opinions, and make sure we're all on the same page. My team loves it!"

Chad Halvorson, CEO, When I Work, added, “Most workplaces with an hourly or mobile workforce rely on SMS, email or piecemeal communication channels to stay connected. Whether it’s scheduling, tracking time, requesting time off or trading shifts — we believe communication and collaboration are at the core of it all. WorkChat puts team communication in one place and dramatically advances our mission to help hourly workers and employers work better together.

Grubhub Integrates with Alexa

Grubhub is integrating its ordering capabilities with Amazon Alexa. The new Grubhub skill for Alexa will make it easier for customers to reorder food from Grubhub's network of more than 50,000 restaurants using only their voice.

The Grubhub skill for Alexa, which is available for all Grubhub diners who have a device with Amazon Alexa such as the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Amazon Tap, provides a convenient voice-ordering experience. Diners will be able to ask Alexa to recite their past three orders and reorder from one of their favorite local restaurants.

"We're always looking for new ways to evolve the ordering process so that our diners can order the food they want from their favorite local restaurants, however they would want to order it," said Sudev Balakrishnan, senior vice president of product, Grubhub. "With the new Alexa skill, we're thrilled to offer added convenience to our diners, allowing them to quickly reorder using their voice."

"Ordering meals with only your voice is one of the more popular capabilities on Alexa. Customers love how convenient it is to simply ask Alexa to place an order for delivery," said Rob Pulciani, Director, Amazon Alexa. "I'm excited that customers can now reorder from Grubhub's network of 50,000-plus restaurants, giving them even more choices as to where their next breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack will come from."

Waitr Lands Funding

Waitr landed $10 million in funding for its popular on-demand food delivery restaurant platform. This infusion of cash will accelerate Waitr's growth, as the company will more than double in size by the end of 2017 – bringing the number of cities served to more than 40 nationwide.

The group of Gulf South-based investors was led by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was first introduced to Waitr's impact at one of his Crescent City restaurants.

"Waitr's commitment to growth from its Louisiana roots has added hundreds of quality tech jobs to the Gulf South economy," said Brees. "When we launch a new city, it brings jobs and a positive impact to our restaurant partners and the community. I have seen firsthand how Waitr's software platform can give a restaurant new revenue streams they might not have otherwise. We have seen the growth in our own restaurants after signing on with Waitr."

"It is extremely gratifying that we have investors as excited about Waitr as we are," said Chris Meaux, Waitr's CEO and founder. "It's almost unheard of to obtain this much funding outside of Silicon Valley and we're especially thrilled to have Drew Brees leading the round. We'll be using these funds to take our already proven business model to new locations across the country."

Launched in 2015, Waitr is an on-demand food delivery service and online restaurant technology platform designed to connect local restaurants to hungry consumers. Founded in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Waitr's mission is to develop the local food culture for communities across the United States by expanding the reach of local restaurant menus. Available on the web, on iPhone and Android devices, Waitr has over 1,600 restaurant partners and hundreds of thousands of users in 18 cities across four states.

Hazel Closes Funding

What would it mean for the world if fruits and vegetables stayed fresher longer? A lot more people would have access to quality produce -- and a lot of what's grown wouldn't go to waste. That's where Hazel Technologies comes in. Today, Hazel Technologies, a USDA-supported ag-tech startup, announced the closing of an $800K seed investment led by Rhapsody Venture Partners with participation from VentureWell and Valley Oak Investments.

According to the NRDC, up to 40 percent of produce in the US goes to waste each year. Hazel makes sure that the food that farmers grow gets from farm to fork. Hazel's two products, FruitBrite™ and BerryBrite™, are simple packaging inserts. Growers, shippers and retailers can easily integrate both products into their operations, dramatically extending produce shelf-life.

BerryBrite uses a proprietary combination of essential oils to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi and molds in berries. FruitBrite is an extended release technology that prevents ripening, and is effective for transportation and storage of many fruits and vegetables, including avocados, melons, and cherries.

Hazel CEO and co-founder Aidan Mouat commented: "We have completed 12 successful commercial pilots and these same customers are waiting for us to be able to ship product. These customers cumulatively ship over 500 million pounds of produce per year. With this financing, we can fulfill orders we are receiving for 2017. We are passionate about reducing food waste and improving produce quality, and now we're in a position to deliver."

Bernard Lupien, General Partner at RVP, observed, "Hazel is a perfect example of a team and company that will make a rapid market impact."

HuHot Rolls Out LMS

HuHot Mongolian Grills, LLC is excited to announce the rollout of their new Learning Management System (LMS) called HuHub. The platform is powered by Wisetail, a Bozeman, MT based technology company.

The HuHub LMS includes all of the standard LMS features, such as online learning, testing and certifications, but differentiates itself from other standard systems with the additional capability to upload videos by restaurant staff thus allowing HuHot to elevate their ability to monitor, engage and validate great training practices in the restaurants.

Jeff Martin, COO, is just as excited about the social component as he is the ability for HuHot to communicate directly with all of our employees.  He said, "Whether it's our CEO giving a shout out to a deserving server or a dishwasher asking a question about the company, HuHub will go a long way in making our people a big part of the whole company each and every day. This level of engagement will provide a boost to job satisfaction, retention and ultimately, better operational execution."

HuHub was fully developed in late 2016 and has been implemented in all of the company-owned locations for testing and vetting.  The task of implementing HuHub into all of the franchised locations will kick off at the beginning of the 2nd quarter of 2017.

orderTalk Teams with Cracker Barrel

orderTalk, Inc., an on-demand software and service solutions to the restaurant industry, has rolled out new state-of-the-art digital ordering capabilities to Cracker Barrel locations in 43 states. Cracker Barrel extended the customized online ordering option nationwide for catering and plans to extend its online offerings soon.

“There is no question that consumers’ desire for convenience and flexibility in online ordering is on the rise,” said Patrick Eldon, CEO of orderTalk Inc. “With our specialized efficient and user friendly software, it’s easy for the food service industry to meet the needs of their consumers. For an iconic brand like Cracker Barrel, our remote ordering software was a great fit. Our software solutions are designed to improve restaurant guest experience and leverage business growth through stronger sales, higher check averages, decreased overhead costs and a higher customer satisfaction level.”

Cracker Barrel customers will soon have the ability to search for their nearest location; view all online offerings; and select order options for pick-up and pay online through a PCI compliant, secure program.

“In the digital age we live in, customer satisfaction remains a priority to us. With orderTalk we can deliver such satisfaction while extending our products and services into the digital world,” said Leon de Wet, VP Information Systems and CIO of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store., decreased overhead costs and a higher customer satisfaction level.”

Toast Adds Scandrett

 Toast Restaurant POS said Hugh Scandrett has joined as Vice President of Engineering as a critical addition to its leadership team. As Vice President of Engineering, Hugh is responsible for overseeing the development of Toast products in addition to aiding the Company in scaling, strategic growth and meeting long-term goals.

Toast offers advanced functionality to manage the day to day operations of the restaurant, including quick menu modifications, real-time enterprise reporting, online ordering and labor management on an easy-to-use interface. The platform also features revenue-driving tools including physical and digital gift cards, loyalty programs and online ordering. Hugh will lead the innovation of Toast’s big data analytics capabilities and beyond. Specializing in enterprise software and SaaS technology, Hugh has created and run engineering teams for both startups and established companies.

“Hugh has a vastly successful track record as a leader with engineering experience crossing five industries, all life cycle stages, public and private companies, teams from 20 to 2,000, hardware, enterprise software and SaaS platforms,” said Chris Comparato, CEO of Toast. “We are extremely excited to have Hugh’s caliber of talent on our team.”

“Toast Restaurant POS is one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the U.S.; I am eager to help build on the Company’s spectacular growth and success,” said Scandrett. “I believe Toast is the future of restaurant technology and will remain a leader in SaaS-based innovations.”

Domino's Updates Google Home Ordering

Domino's Pizza updated its Google Home ordering so that any customer can start a new order, without the need for a Pizza Profile, for a custom-built pizza, as well as any other item from the menu. Domino's is the first to offer voice assistant ordering with this level of customization.

"The Google Assistant on Google Home is the second full-ordering platform to launch on Domino's lineup of AnyWare ordering capabilities this year," said Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president – chief digital officer. "Our in-house technology team has created a simple and convenient ordering experience that is now open to everyone, not just those who have a saved account."

Anyone can place an order for Domino's with the Google Assistant on Google Home by saying, "OK Google, order Domino's." Dom, Domino's voice ordering assistant, will then guide the customer through the ordering process using natural-language ordering technology. Voice assistant technology isn't the only fun part of ordering either. Customers who ask for a deal can receive 20 percent off every menu-priced item in their order. Customers are also able to track their order progress with Domino's Tracker®. 

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