The ‘Dark’ Future for Food Delivery Apps
by Charlotte Dugdale
It is late at night and you haven’t prepared any food but are dying for a meal. It being 2017 means that you don’t settle for frozen meals anymore but expect to purchase restaurant quality food from a few clicks of a button. Reaching for your phone and opening one of the many food delivery apps that London has to offer, you begin to browse an endless list of restaurants that line the streets of the city. Your stomach guides your decision and the one restaurant that you want to order food from is unable to deliver to your location. Que, Deliveroo Editions, the monolithic app’s attempt to ensure exceptional food quality and choice in the world of takeaway meals. Deliveroo Editions aims “to connect our customers who want to eat great, exciting food without always travelling into the centre of a city, with the restaurants who want to reach them.” And how will it ensure this, you may ask? Well, by implementing ‘dark kitchens’ across London.
So, what exactly are these ‘dark kitchens?’
‘Dark kitchens’ are not as ominous as the name suggests. They are, in fact, groups of repurposed shipping containers that are fitted out with working kitchens in which restaurant chefs are able to recreate meals, ready for home delivery by couriers. The term ‘dark kitchens’ adopts its name from ‘dark stores,’ a concept in which supermarkets acquire huge spaces to fill with shelves of products for online shopping orders, hidden away from the physical presence of shoppers. Similarly, in these ‘dark kitchens’ there are no hungry customers waiting.
Deliveroo has implemented ‘dark kitchens’ or ‘Rooboxes’ across London, with sites in Camberwell, Dulwich, Canary Wharf and Battersea that were launched in April of this year. These kitchens host popular London restaurants such as MEATliquor, Franco Manca, Ahi Poke and Busaba Eathai. It has hopes to open more throughout the country, with Will Shu having raised £500m to do so. Deliveroo claims that Editions will “put an end to post code envy,” as customers will be able to order food from restaurants that do not have a permanent physical presence in their local area.
So, what does this mean for the hungry customer?
For starters, customers would be able to try new restaurants and chefs that are completely exclusive to Deliveroo. Through Editions, the company has secured a popular restaurant from Milan, Lievità, to have a temporary residence in London. Meaning, hungry Londoners will be able to order popular Milanese food to their home address, substituting a £2.50 delivery charge instead of a hefty airfare to Italy. (Hurray!) Deliveroo has also launched cupcakes made by The Great British Bake Off crowd favourite, Selasi Gbormittah, available exclusively through Editions. Through these ‘dark kitchens’ talented chefs, bakers and creators are given a platform to showcase their talent on a temporary basis, without worrying about large risks nor committing to an expensive London rental space. Selasi Gbormittah, as well as being a beloved internet hero and amateur baker is also a banker, and through Editions is able to temporarily have a space to bake on a large platform without having the strings attached of running a physical bakery. ‘Dark kitchens’ are giving Deliveroo power in the restaurant sphere, not only in providing international restaurants with a temporary home in London but also in curating the types of foods that they want their customers to be able to order.
Deliveroo are going above and beyond in order to improve satisfaction in the food delivery industry. The app is now offering a Deliveroo Toolkit for restaurant partners and is currently implemented in all Deliveroo Editions kitchens in the UK, before progressing to all 25,000 restaurants that work with the app in 2018. This Toolkit assists kitchens in optimising their operations by providing chefs with preparation and cooking times, helping restaurants predict their weekly order quantities and having a real-time kitchen overview dashboard. This will help increase the efficiency of restaurants and improve the experience of customers.
So… what’s the catch?
Deliveroo has not gone without upsetting a few local councils in setting up these ‘dark kitchens’. The Guardian reported in early October that councils have accused the food delivery app of bypassing planning regulations and being the source of residential noise complaints. The Camberwell Edition is being threatened closure as it did not apply for the necessary planning permission and is also said to be disturbing nearby local residents. Despite this, there are expected to be 200 Rooboxes across the United Kingdom by the end of 2017. Deliveroo Editions tracks customer preferences for certain cuisines in certain locations by figuring out which cuisines are missing from that area and how much residents are likely to spend. The Financial Times address an interesting point with Editions, writing whether this data tracking will have the same effect as Facebook’s algorithms, in that it only shows you news that you are already interested in. Would the menus only begin to list dishes that have previous been popular? Would this suffocate innovation and create community bubbles of food preferences? Only time will well.
It seems that these ‘dark kitchens’ are here for the long haul. It’s safe to say, however, that nothing can truly replace the dining out experience – the inviting smells, the overhead conversations of strangers and food arriving on a warm plate… not in a cardboard container.