3 November 2017 Courier Weekly

Will screens replace waiters?

PLUS: Cashmere supply chain – Strava’s city data – Vinyl sales – Meal kits

Digital screens replacing waiters in casual dining.

Pressure on restaurants is huge right now. An 8% drop in eating out from a year ago has coincided with more restaurants opening. It’s a situation made worse with the rising cost of ingredients, rent and business rates, along with worries over staffing as a result of Brexit.

Owners of ‘fast casual’ food businesses are thought to be taking automated ordering systems more seriously in a bid to cut staff costs and improve ‘throughput’ – speeding up the number of customers they can process during busy periods by getting them to order food themselves via a touch screen.

McDonald’s has led the way here. Although the fast-food giant recently denied reports it will ‘replace cashiers in at least 2,500 restaurants’ in the US by the end of this year, and another 3,000 in 2018, McDonald’s has been installing more of the screens in its restaurants in both the US and the UK.

A report last month revealed more restaurants in the US are apparently putting iPads on tables.

For smaller fast casual restaurants, especially with narrow menus selling pizzas, falafels, burgers or burritos, the risk with customers ordering from a screen is the potential to cheapen the experience.

NY cashmere startup cuts out supply chain layers.

There’s a startup selling cashmere clothing in New York getting a lot of attention. Naadam is the result of a 28-year-old former finance analyst going out to the Mongolian desert in June 2015 with £1.6m in cash and loading a Toyota pickup truck with 100 tonnes of cashmere, bought directly from the herders and farmers.

The story is almost so good it’s tempting to question its veracity.

Less colourful, but more interesting, is how Naadam has stretched the popular direct-to-consumer model beyond just retail. Naadam has cut out the faceless cashmere buyers and distributors which wholesale fabric to companies, then on to designers and brands.

It’s interesting to see how much the company is pushing its ethical and ‘organic’ credentials as well as ‘supply chain’ as a consumer story for everyday people to latch on to. It goes to great lengths to explain the industrial methods employed in the clothing industry to produce and sell cashmere.

As well as selling directly through its website, Naadam opened its own physical shop in New York last month.

The company is reckoned to be on course to rack up £17m this year in sales – its second year of trading.

City authorities hacking Strava.

Municipalities appear to have found a new use for cycling app Strava.

The app’s heatmap data, originally created to allow users to find other popular cycle routes, is increasingly being used by transport departments to influence infrastructure projects.

This article dives into why hundreds of cities are buying Strava’s data.

Vinyl businesses going strong​.

GZ Media, in Prague, has managed to strike gold by keeping its record-pressing business going despite falling vinyl record sales in the 90s.

As music aficionados began the ‘vinyl revival’ over the past decade, GZ has pressed more records to keep up. Unlike many of its competitors, GZ hung on to its vinyl-making equipment so was easily able to take on big production orders.

We previously covered Gearbox Records, a record pressing company in King’s Cross, which has been set up amid the streaming and downloading era, precisely to make the most of the resurgence in vinyl records.

Vinyl sales have been steadily growing and reached a 25 year high in 2015. Downloads meanwhile have been dropping quickly as most people have switched to streaming music.

Thinking outside of the recipe box? 

Meal kit subscription services have been making headlines regularly this year.

First, there was US company Blue Apron’s seemingly disappointing IPO in June.

Around the same time, Amazon announced it would be testing its own meal kits.

Hello Fresh has just priced its own IPO, while Gousto has launched an Amazon Alexa app, which talks users through recipes, step-by-step.

It all begs the question: how much demand is there for these ‘cooking for dummies’-style kits?

The Guardian tasked one of its writers with sustaining himself solely on recipe boxes for a week. His conclusion? ‘I suspect myself to be in the early stages of gout.’