Ghost kitchen gains, Biden's $15B small-biz grants

A version of this article appeared on 2/9/21 in Back of House News, a free weekly newsletter from Back of House with news, resources, and more curated by our team. It goes out to thousands of restaurant operators each Tuesday morning. Subscribe today to get our coverage of the restaurant technology space directly to your inbox!


The Industry Appetizer

A quick snack on some headlines that caught our editors' eyes this week.

  • Restaurants had a great week in D.C.: It looks strange even to type such a thing, given the carnage of the past year, but it's true. 90 (!) U.S. Senators voted for an amendment to President Biden's big Covid relief package that would, if passed into law, create a restaurant relief fund that restaurant chains with 20 or fewer locations could put towards a raft of expenses, retroactive to February 2020. Grants (not loans!) could reportedly be used to pay for "benefits, sick leave, mortgages, rent, payroll, maintenance, supplies, protective equipment, cleaning equipment, food and any other essential expenses." The overall dollar amounts hasn't been hammered out, but it's looking more like $25B than the $120B the industry had been seeking since last spring. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans (plus some Democrats) announced they wouldn't support a $15 minimum wage during the pandemic, saying they want to avoid further burdening small businesses. (Restaurant Dive / Restaurant Business / NPR)

  • But F&B job losses still loom: Relief notwithstanding, it was a bleak start to the year for workers. The overall flat January jobs report showed that restaurants shed 19,400 jobs, a relatively modest drop but the third straight month of losses, putting total restaurant employment 2.3M behind February 2020. (Restaurant Business / Eater)

  • NY restaurant employees jump into line for vaccines: Just days after dismissing calls to consider restaurant workers essential, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo 180'd to prioritize vaccinations for F&B workers. In a rare instance of agreement with the governor, New York City's mayor, Bill de Blasio, seconded the point: "We have to protect those workers." Still, the bottleneck is real. The state is administering some 300,000 doses per week while fully 7.1M New Yorkers are now eligible for the vaccine. (QSR)

Tech Talk

The restaurant software, hardware, and solutions stories we've been chewing on lately.

  • So Uber Eats swallowed Drizly ... : The massive food delivery platform is shouldering its way into the alcohol delivery game with a $1.1B acquisition of Drizly, an 8-year-old Boston firm that slings on-demand wine, liquor, and beer in 1,400 cities. With bars and restaurants closed or limited in 2020, Drizly saw a reported 300% growth, driven by twice as many new customers are usual; expect more as Drizly moves onto Uber's robust routing platform. The companies touted the move as a win for delivery drivers, who will have more ways to earn, and of course for drinkers who don't want to venture out in the winter cold. (Restaurant Dive / Yahoo Finance)

  • ... and is folding local slice shops into @Pizza: For takeout customers too famished to care where their pizza comes from, but picky enough to want it local, Uber Eats has the solution. It's pulling 150 pizza shops under a single umbrella with the handle @Pizza, a foray into quasi-generic branding that, if nothing else, will streamline pizza orders. Will it also bolster the local shops that are selected as the @Pizza default delivery in a given neighborhood? Or does it, as Eater worries, signal "a fundamental devaluing of even a whiff of that independence Uber touts in the first place"? Either way, brace yourself for other non-branded brands: @Icecream, @Hotwings, @Baked, and @Liquorstore are also reportedly in the pipes. (Eater)

  • Narrowing a racial digital divide: PepsiCo announced that it's partnering with three Black-owned restaurant ventures in a move the beverage behemoth says will help address the digital gap in the Black-owned restaurant tech space. An investment in EatOkra, a directory app that spotlights Black-owned restaurants, is aimed at helping it expand its database of 5,700+ businesses, while funding for the delivery app Black and Mobile, which also connects diners to Black-owned restaurants, will help that app expand beyond Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and Philly. Pepsi's also working with the inventor of #MyBlackReceipt to develop a way for people to announce that they've been to Black-owned restaurants. This isn't the first time PepsiCo has elevated Black businesses: These moves are part of a $400 million, five-year initiative the company announced in 2020 to support racial equity. (Restaurant Business)

Pantry Staples

Resources for restaurant operators, created and curated by our team. 

  • Beat the cold, heat the patio: There's no bad weather, only bad clothes, right? Wrong, it's February, the weather's terrible, invest in some heaters to make your outdoor diners feel snug. Here's how to shop for the best one for you. (Back of House)

  • See the light on UVC: Some restaurants are adopting UVC light as a way to sanitize surfaces and kill airborne germs. Here are the basics on UVC light you might want to know. (Back of House)

  • Going ghost: Wondering about how to set up a ghost kitchen? We've got the rundown, right here. (Back of House)

[Photo by Edward Eyer from Pexels]