Monday, September 8, 2014

Drank Bar Journal No. 22: Blue Bottle Coffee's Menus

Blue Bottle Coffee took gobs of investor money and is expanding nationally and creating shelf-stable coffee drinks like this chicory milk iced coffee.

They have a few locations in New York City which, thankfully, share none of the twee sluggishness of their Bay Area origins, where it can take you fifteen minutes to get a cappuccino when you're fourth in line.

At each location they do a nice job of making a big menu feel manageable by turning it into two menus.

The first menu lists standards and it's posted big, in permanent metal, on the wall.

The second is the daily or weekly specials and it's posted small, on paper, on a clipboard.

The classics seem permanent. The specials, printed on a laserjet, seem like they're just here for the moment. It keeps things clean and organized, which, if you've ever visited a Blue Bottle shop, seems totally in sync with their semi-OCD look and feel. All in all, I thought it was a good way to differentiate a shop and organize what's offered—and price different coffees differently. Zoom in and you can read the prices for the different drip cups and espressos.

The Dean Street location in my neighborhood also has a sweet upholstery espresso machine cozy.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Recent Reading

In the seven years of bike share programs in American big cities people have taken 23 million trips and experienced zero fatalities. Turns out that, unlike adding more cars to roads which causes more deadly accidents, adding more bikes causes fewer.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Silicon Valley wants to deliver your food

Restaurants and small food shops have always been flustered by delivery. On the one hand they could help customers—and find more of them—if they took orders online and delivered. On the other hand there's the problem of how to price delivery, the logistics of delivery and the problem of setting up an online order system and making sure its inventory is accurate.

In the last year there's been a wave of new Silicon valley start-ups that try to help with the last part—the online order system. 

The most prominet are Grubhub and Seamless. They take orders for restaurants. The restaurants figure out how to make the food and deliver it. Grubhub and Seamless take a cut that's probably around 20%. Speaking personally, I've used Seamless a lot in Brooklyn and it's very good. The benefit to a restaurant here is that they only have to figure out the logistics part of delivery. They can put all or just part of their menu online—and make it available at times that make sense to them.  Take Prime Meats in my neighborhood, a fancy restaurant that's full almost every night. They are on Seamless but in order to prevent overburdening their kitchen they initially showed up on Seamless only between 5 and 7pm, when they were slow.

In the novelty arena, you can also order pizza on a smartphone, albeit in a ridiculous way. There's a one button app that, when you push it, delivers pizza in 30 minutes. From somewhere. Anywhere.

In a more interesting twist, Square, the payment processing software company, is buying a food delivery company called Caviar. This is the only Silicon Valley firm I know trying to do the delivery part of the delivery business. Presumably the idea here is that a restaurant can buy their POS system from Square and the delivery software—and delivery logistics team—will come along with it.

This is happening with grocery, too. I just spent time at Bi-Rite and talked with the GM Patrick (ex-Zingerman's Deli manager) and learned about Instacart, which Bi-Rite just joined. With Instacart you place your grocery order online and they find someone to go get it from you. It's not an employee of the grocery store, it's not an employee of Instacart, it's just some shmo who signed up to be a grocery store picker. (They call them pickers, just like we do for people who pick items for boxes on our production line). Like with Grubhub and Seamless, Instacart takes a cut.

How these all play out will be interesting. Short-sighted merchants, or ones that do their own order and delivery, may look at the cut these companies take and say they don't need to pay someone else for something they can do on their own. The problem there is they will be shut out of network effects. The more merchants sign on to Seamless the more common it'll be for customers to shop there. If you're a merchant and you're not there, you'll loose out. Merchants will be saving cost to give up sales, which is rarely a good move.

What's the downside for the customer? On the restaurant side there seem to be very few negatives. Seamless doesn't mark up for delivery so why not order online and get the same food you could have driven to pick up brought to you for free? On the grocery side, I can see inventory being a hard nut to crack. Right now Instacart has no database connection between what's for sale online and what's in stock at the merchant. If something is sold out, the merchant has to remember to go to Instacart's website and mark it sold out. Will that happen? Sometimes, but not always. That will mean upset customers. Instacart gives leeway to their pickers to choose subs or call the customer to see what they'd like, but either answer is a flawed fix, one that will frustrate customers and hurt sales.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Disrupt yourself or be disrupted

You've probably heard of Uber, the car service that works like a cab—except better. You hail an Uber car from an app on your phone. On the app you can see how long the car will take to get to you. When the car arrives Uber texts you (so if you're inside finishing a conversation inside you walk outside and voila!, there's the car—I've used it a lot and it really does work this smoothly). You can select the size of your car (big SUV if you need to haul the family to the airport). You don't need cash and you don't tip. When you reach your destination you walk out the door and Uber automatically charges your card.

Uber is launching in city after city all over the planet and almost everywhere people are having a fit. Well, not most people, just people who drive cabs for a living. Cabbies are angry, ostensibly, that these "untrained," unlicensed Uber drivers are scooping up their business. I get why that sucks if it's true (in Boston, cab medallion prices, which are basically proxies for how valuable being a cabbie is, have gone up, not down, since Uber came to town which suggests it might not be true.) I think their anger is misplaced, though. They shouldn't be angry at Uber. They should be angry at their employers, the cab companies.

After all, there's no reason why cab companies couldn't do this. Uber's technology is not all that complicated. Any cab company could have done this for their customers years ago and can still do it now. I'm sure someone—or lots of someones—who worked at cab companies has thought of it; I'm sure it was brought up in meetings in cities across the world. All these things Uber does are clearly benefits for customers. So why haven't any cab company on the planet made their own app?

Well, it turns out instead of griping, one finally is. Seoul's cab agency is going to make its own Uber-style app. 

The DNA of Uber is, in practice, very simple. Its power lies in the fact that a huge number of people on the planet now carry a computer connected to the internet in their pockets all day long (we happen to call it a phone). When you use something like Uber for the first time it can seem so obvious you wonder, "Why hasn't this existed before?" The elegance and utility of Uber makes the cabbies argument against it seem archaic. Sorry cabbies, you don't stand a chance on this one. And there are dozens of businesses just like you that are next.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Recent Reading

What if UPS and FedEx were like Uber and Lyft, where regular people do the deliveries, not employees? She started a company to see if that can work. 

A 40 fruit tree. Hat tip to Spike. 

Ever wonder what a camel broker eats each day? Hat tip to Val.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Recent Reading

Dry aged burger map of New York City.

Same kind of map, this time for Prime Rib. Bonus: lots of useful butcher information on the cut itself.

You've been slicing cake all wrong. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recent Reading

Do you order fresh peas online? Not yet, but maybe soon. The online grocery business is booming.

This is the kind of talk about food you don't hear very often; the real business side of the good food business. Patrick Martins, our pork man, talks about meat, farming, food, and the praise of real craft.