Restaurant Roundup: COVID Concerns Pervade As Diners Return to Bars


With COVID-19 cases once again on the rise, mass concern over the spread of the Delta variant and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) once again suggesting that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in areas of substantial or high transmission, many are pushing back against the sense of “back to normal” that pervaded in June and the better part of July.

Celebrity restaurateur Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, for one, has announced that all the group’s restaurants will require staff to be vaccinated and will require diners to show proof of vaccine starting Sept. 7. Many New York City bars and restaurants already require proof of vaccine, with the state’s mobile “Excelsior Pass” making screening easier for many establishments.

“This is the most logical thing I’ve ever seen — I’m not a scientist, but I know how to read data,” Meyer said, appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “And what I see is that this is a crisis of people who have not been vaccinated, and I feel strong responsibility, on our part as business leaders, to take care of our team and our guests, and that’s what we’re doing.”

He also shared that the company is incentivizing employee vaccinations by offering eight hours of paid time off per dose. Rather than believing that this will limit customers, Meyer predicts it will in fact be good for business.

“I actually believe … that this is going to make even more people want to dine with us,” he said. “I think the vast majority of people who dine out, especially indoors, don’t want to see us go back to how things were.”

NYC: Delivery Services Must Share Data With Restaurants

On Thursday (July 29), the New York City Council approved a bill that requires third-party food delivery services to share customer data with restaurants. Per the bill, the delivery services must share the data anytime a restaurant requests it, although customers can withdraw their consent to share their information, in which case the restaurant must delete that data.

“As things currently stand, the food delivery platforms control the customer data for orders that they facilitate,” Kathleen Reilly, government affairs coordinator for the New York State Restaurant Association, said in a June hearing discussing the bill. “What it means is that restaurants are kept at arms’ length from their customers, even repeat customers, even regulars, because the platforms do not share critical information like phone number, order history [and] email address with the restaurant operators.”

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, asked that the bill “be slightly amended to also require third-party reservation companies to provide customer data to those restaurants,” noting that there is “a similar dynamic there.” The final bill does not mention third-party reservation companies, though advocacy groups may well continue to advocate for such legislation in the future.

Along with this bill, Restaurant Business reports, the Council also passed several other related bills on the same day: one that makes it illegal for third-party delivery services to add restaurants to their online marketplaces without the restaurant’s consent; one that requires services to include restaurants’ direct phone numbers, rather than fielding all calls through a phone line operated by the delivery service; one that extends a ban on fees the delivery service would impose on restaurants for taking phone calls that do not lead to a sale; and one that extends fee caps until mid-February.

Voice-Based AI Company Converse Now Raises $15M For QSR Tech

No, ConverseNow is not a company that delivers high-top canvas sneakers to consumers’ doors within the hour — it is a technology startup that provides artificial intelligence (AI) voice ordering capabilities for quick-service restaurants (QSRs), enabling a more seamless drive-thru experience and offering more options for mobile and digital kiosk ordering.

On Thursday (July 29), the company announced that it had raised $15 million in Series A funding, TechCrunch reported, bringing the company’s total funding to $18.3 million. The funding comes as QSRs seek automated solutions to improve operations amid the current labor shortage.

The solution comes as many restaurants seek to make their drive-thrus more intelligent, with not only voice ordering but also features such as data-informed personalized signage. On a call with analysts on Friday (July 30), Restaurant Brands International (RBI) CEO José Cil stated that Tim Hortons’ drive-thru experience uses digital menu boards, allowing the company to use analytics to offer data-informed recommendations.

“If you step into restaurants with ConverseNow, you see them reimagined,” the startup’s Co-founder Rahul Aggarwal told TechCrunch. “You find workers focusing on the job they like to do, which is preparing food … operators have more time to churn orders, and service time comes down.”

Bars Are Back, Baby

According to recent earnings reports from major beer and spirits companies AB InBev and Diageo released on Thursday (July 29), the former saw revenue rise 28 percent in the second quarter ending June 30, with business in Europe “supported by the gradual reopening of the on-premise and continued strength of the off-premise.”

Additionally, CEO Michel Doukeris told analysts that in the United States, “Overall, you see around 90-plus percent of the on-trade coming back.”

Diageo, for its part, saw net sales for the year ending June 30 rise 8 percent above the year before, despite the bulk of this period occurring as most major markets were operating under COVID-19 restrictions.

“It comes as no surprise that the shuttering of bars and nightclubs left Diageo with a nasty hangover of problems,” Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, told Reuters. “However, the strength of the group’s brands means it was able to recoup some of its losses through a huge increase in supermarket trade in some key markets, and it has come out of the pandemic in remarkably resilient shape.”

Looking ahead, the company said in a presentation shared with analysts that it believes it is “well-positioned” to take advantage of “resilience in the off-trade and recovery in the on-trade,” though the company cautions that COVID-19 concerns continue to impact travel sales and cause volatility.

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