New Los Angeles Chinese restaurant Kin-Chu Cafe
promises delivery until 1 a.m., one of the first
instances of telephone-based food ordering.
The impact: Delivery is a $43 billion business
annually in the United States, and apps such as
GrubHub and Postmates offer delivery from just
about any restaurant.
A microbiologist experiments with making ice
cream using liquid nitrogen (rather than churning), inadvertently inventing Dippin’ Dots.
The impact: Molecular gastronomy is now mainstream; Smitten is a popular liquid-nitrogen ice
cream chain; Panera and others use cooking techniques such as sous vide.
The first In-N-Out Burger allows drivers to order
through an intercom and pick up from a window—
without stepping out of the car.
The impact: With up to 70% of fast-food sales
coming via the drive-through lane, even higher-end chains such as Starbucks and Chipotle have
been forced to embrace the system.
The promise of ordering a pizza via the internet
becomes a reality when Pizza Hut takes the first
digital order—large pepperoni with mushrooms
and extra cheese.
The impact: About half of all U. S. pizza orders are
now digital, and Domino’s has usurped Pizza Hut
with its pizza tracker and emoji ordering.
Diners Club becomes the first multipurpose
charge card, eliminating the need for cash or a
house account at upscale restaurants.
The impact: Bill-paying tech continues to evolve,
with restaurateurs embracing startups that offer
prepaid ticketing (Tock) or eliminate the check
drop and replace it with pay-by-phone (Resy).
Owners ran restaurants by feel until the startup
Avero created software to analyze sales and
inventory to reveal insights such as which servers
are best at wooing customers to order dessert.
The impact: Data now rules the guest experience
as well, via services such as Yelp, which has tools
to manage reservations, wait times, and rewards.
After Ray Kroc opens the first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, he institutes consistent prep methods and sets up a supply chain to
ensure uniform quality while expanding rapidly.
The impact: Almost every chain since has tried to
emulate its prowess; Just Salad, for one, touts its
employees’ ability to toss 60 salads an hour.
Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom’s first photos
on the app are from San Francisco’s Tacos Chila-kos stand, establishing the relationship between
food and photo sharing.
The impact: Taco Bell creates products like the
Quesalupa for its Instagrammable cheese pull;
avocado toast sales boom because it’s pretty.
IBM rolls out the 3650 Retail Store System, a
client-server mainframe for tracking orders and
The impact: Since McDonald’s adopted computerized order entry in 1974, systems have become
increasingly sophisticated; Square delivers even
more power—in a tablet computer.
Domino’s Pizza announces a test to deliver via
self-driving cars. Customers grab their order from
the back, no human interaction necessary.
The impact: Robots are also being deployed to
make food—Chowbotics is a salad maker and Cafe
X a barista—and chains such as McDonald’s and
Wendy’s are rolling out self-serve order kiosks.
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10 Restaurant Innovations Changing the
Way We Eat
By David Lidsky
Illustration by Peter Oumanski