How ghost kitchens’ business models could threaten the future of traditional dine-in restaurants

Pasta Cooking in Industrial Kitchen.
Dark kitchens were already gaining popularity before the pandemic.

  • Dark kitchens are gaining popularity, enabling restaurants to cut costs during the pandemic. 
  • Spanish broadcaster RTVE estimated 25% of home food deliveries now came from dark kitchens. 
  • If the trend continues, traditional dining establishments will likely find it difficult to recover.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the food industry forever and brought new trends with it.

Among them are “dark kitchens” or “ghost kitchens.”

Dark kitchens consist of premises where food is prepared for home delivery or collection but do not have a dining area or waiters.

The business’s customer service and dining area rental aspects are removed, cutting costs and enabling a direct relationship with consumers.

The concept was already gaining popularity before the pandemic, taking over fast-food chains and supermarkets.

Many restaurants also share premises and facilities to cut costs even further.

Over the last year, dark kitchens have grown exponentially in popularity.

Grocery giant Kroger announced in October that it was opening more dark kitchens to meet surging delivery demand, and Chipotle outlined plans to open its first dark kitchen in November, although the chain has been using digital kitchens within its restaurants for some time.

In many ways, dark kitchens have been the saving grace of the pandemic, allowing restaurants to continue operating despite restrictions that ban diners from visiting their establishments.

25% of food deliveries during the pandemic come from dark kitchens, according to Spanish broadcaster RTVE.

It’s not just restaurants that are catching on – it’s delivery giants too.

Food delivery firm Deliveroo, now worth $7 billion, said it would spend its latest funding win of $180 million partly on investing in dark kitchens.

This will enable them to increase their profit margins hugely as they will no longer be dependent on delivery commissions from restaurants.

However, there are concerns that dark kitchens could threaten traditional dining establishments, as they cannot compete with the larger profit margins, quicker deliveries, and lower prices offered by dark kitchen restaurants.

If they do not return in numbers equivalent to pre-pandemic levels, it will be difficult for restaurants to recover from the losses incurred over lockdowns and closures will be inevitable.

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Apple faces yet another regulator investigation into whether its 30% App Store commission is unfair for developers, this time in the UK

apple tim cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook.

  • The UK’s competition regulator said on Thursday it has started investigating Apple. 
  • Apple charges developers a commission of up to 30% on purchases customers make via App Store apps.
  • Developers have complained the commission is unfair and anti-competitive.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Britain’s competition regulator said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into Apple after complaints that the iPhone maker’s terms and conditions for app developers are unfair and anti-competitive.

The probe will consider if Apple has a dominant position in the distribution of apps on its devices in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said.

Payment policies related to Apple’s App Store have for long drawn complaints from app developers. It charges a commission of up to 30% from developers on the value of transactions or any time a consumer buys their app.

The iPhone maker said it will work with the regulator.

“The App Store has been an engine of success for app developers, in part because of the rigorous standards we have in place – applied fairly and equally to all developers – to protect customers from malware and to prevent rampant data collection without their consent,” Apple said in a statement.

The company is also being investigated on similar grounds by the Dutch competition authorities, who are nearing a draft decision, Reuters reported last month.

Last year, the European Commission too had opened a probe into the iPhone maker over the App Store commission fee.

“Complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice – potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps – warrant careful scrutiny,” CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said.

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The next global pandemic may be caused by a bioterrorist attack, says Harvard tech expert

Factory worker with dangerous materials
The next global pandemic could be the result of a bioterrorist attack.

  • The next global pandemic could be caused by a bioterrorist attack, warned tech expert Vivek Wadhwa.
  • He’s worried about the accessibility of CRISPR gene editing, which allows genes to be cut and paste.
  • Although “the genie is out of the bottle,” an effective counter-response could prevent an attack.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The next global pandemic could be the result of a bioterrorist attack, a tech expert has warned.

Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering, said in an essay for Foreign Policy that this was largely due to advances in cheap and easily accessible methods of genetic engineering.

Conspiracy theories have often suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “bioweapon” manufactured in a Chinese lab.

However, Wadhwa, who is also a distinguished fellow of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, insisted that the pandemic was not created in a lab, citing a report by Nature Medicine.

“But if genetic engineering wasn’t behind this pandemic, it could very well unleash the next one,” Wadhwa said.

He believes the current pandemic should be treated as a “dress rehearsal of what is to come, including viruses deliberately engineered by humans.”

Advances in genetic engineering are a double-edged sword

The concerns of those in science and tech have slowly been becoming a reality, with Wadhwa pointing to the ease of access to gene editing kits in the US.

Mail-order do-it-yourself kits can be ordered by anyone, with a bacterial engineering kit costing as little as $169. Meanwhile, a human engineering kit comes in at $349.

One reviewer said they were a high-school student while another said they “didn’t know it could be this easy.”

This ease of accessibility is largely due to the advances of CRISPR gene editing, which enables scientists to cut and paste genes, with the possibility of curing or eradicating malaria or Huntingdon’s disease, but also of damaging species and ecosystems.

Wadhwa said CRISPR makes it “almost as easy to engineer life forms as it is to edit Microsoft Word documents.”

“There should have been international treaties to prevent the use of CRISPR for gene editing on humans or animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should have kept companies from selling DIY gene-editing kits,” Wadhwa added.

In April 2015, Chinese researchers genetically engineered human embryos, and this was followed by a failed attempt to genetically modify two babies to be HIV-resistant in 2018.

The scientist involved in the latter experiment, He Jiankui, was eventually sentenced to three years in prison.

There is still much research to be done on CRISPR, which has not yet been declared safe for use and has previously caused concern due to potential links with cancer.

Although this was largely dismissed as an “overreaction”, there is no clear consensus among scientists, with geneticist Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Center saying the effects of CRISPR had been “seriously underestimated.”

Gene editing DNA
CRISPR gene editing enables scientists to ‘cut and paste’ genetic information.

Could this lead to a pandemic created by bioterrorists?

From board games simulating a bioterrorist attack to a bipartisan report declaring the US to be “significantly underprepared” for bioterrorism, it seems a bioterrorism pandemic could well be in our future.

“The bad is just too terrible to think about,” said Wadha, who maintained “the only solution is to accelerate the good side of these technologies while building our defenses.”

Piers Millett, of the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, is more optimistic than Wadhwa.

Speaking to Future of Life, he said gene editing was not a significant step forward for biowarfare, and pinned the possibilities of bioterrorist attacks on “states” rather than lone actors.

He did, however, concede that the intentional creation of a harmful pathogen would be “amongst the most dangerous things on the planet.”

In 2018 the John Hopkins Center for Health Security ran a simulation exercise with US policymakers, testing their reactions and decisions in the face of a bioterrorist attack involving a highly contagious disease, according to Vox.

Vox reported that the results showed worldwide deaths in excess of 150 million and a 90% tumble for the Dow Jones.

“It is now too late to stop the global spread of these technologies – the genie is out of the bottle,” Wadhwa said.

Their potential harmful impact will depend on how quickly a counter-response can be formed. If used for good, however, these technologies could be the answer to curing “all disease.”

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Our cities are turning inside out – micro-mobility is the key to connect us all

RICHARD CORBETT   Voi
Richard Corbett is the head of UK, Ireland, and Benelux countries at Voi

Almost everything we thought we knew about city life has changed. What was normal is now nostalgia. 

Across the UK, Europe and beyond, our capitals and major cities are virtually unrecognizable from a year ago, having been turned inside out. The once-bustling heart of each is now largely a ghost town. Once-frenzied transport hotspots are quiet. Large, corporate retailers are faced with fewer customers per pound spent on business rates. 

All the while, our cities’ suburbs are buzzing. Shopping, socializing and eating out has shifted to local communities, green spaces, independent coffee shops, and small retailers and specialist stores. 

Covid has changed every aspect of our lives, and this includes what we now need and want from our transport networks. Not only do e-scooters provide the possibility to travel with social distancing, but micro-mobility, in general, offers a solution for our changing needs. 

At Voi, we’ve been championing the benefits of micro-mobility for years. Its affordable, convenient and personalised nature – alongside the multitude of environmental benefits that it provides – are at the heart of why the company was formed. These are also the reasons why it’s now so well suited to the change in city life – where suburbs have become the focus and city centres relatively quiet.

City centres are well served by transport networks. London, alone, has 270 stations across 11 tube lines but around 90% of these stations are found in Zones 1-2. But this means that places outside central London lack in the sort of fast transport links seen a mere mile or two away. Those with lower incomes, who live further from the center, are often relegated to less convenient forms of mass transport. 

Unfortunately we also see transport blackspots on the outskirts of other cities too, and particularly in non-metropolitan areas. According to the Campaign for Better Transport, 56% of small towns in the South West and North East of England are found to be ‘transport deserts’ with poor provision.

As people slowly start to return to streets, offices and shops, we see that they are reluctant to return to public transport and are preferring to use their cars to get around – if this trend persists it will be disastrous for air quality and emission.

Micro-mobility solves many of these problems. Take South London as a prime example. The lack of tube lines south of the river means people rely on buses and cars to get around. A journey on a bike or e-scooter, which can take 10 minutes, takes half an hour or more on a bus or in a car because of congestion. Independent research has shown that under normal circumstances, e-scooters can cut commute times by up to 70% – and that’s in areas where there aren’t as many transport gaps as there are in the suburbs. 

Travelling by car or by bus forces you to go directly from A to B. Travelling on an e-scooter gives the rider more freedom to stop and explore new places en route.  This way, small independent businesses can benefit from having a slightly bigger catchment area and increased footfall. 

If we go further and free up road space to cut journey times – by for instance introducing low traffic neighborhoods, restricted to residents – people living in the suburbs will have more time and opportunity to get to their local amenities, to buy from their local butcher and support their local restaurants. At the same time, local businesses will be able to use e-scooters to offer deliveries or help support vulnerable residents. 

We believe e-scooters can revolutionize city living. But in some ways, they have the potential to be even more life-changing in the suburbs. We don’t expect them to become an alternative to busy buses, trams and trains but they can help people connect to transport infrastructure, who might be tempted to take a car and they give a whole new choice to those who don’t want to cycle or walk so far. 

Around the world, as lockdowns have eased, people have favored their local high streets, rediscovered during months of restrictions. With e-scooter schemes to help people get around, we can help people to stay local and shop local. It’s good for the planet, for businesses and local communities. 

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CEO of data analytics firm Quantexa shares how digital resilience and data-driven decision-making will determine which businesses thrive in a post-Covid world

Quantexa CEO Vishal Marria
Quantexa CEO Vishal Marria

It’s no secret that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant missed opportunity in enterprise data and analytics. In fact, at least three-quarters of companies today have limited their use of analytics and fail to capitalize on the operational decision-making opportunity of modern data intelligence. Organizations often struggle to operationalize analytics into the day-to-day business. However, businesses have begun to realize that state-of-the-art decision intelligence requires a blend of machine intelligence with human intelligence to ensure optimal decision-making. Applying graph representations to high performance data sets is fast becoming an imperative to modern decision-making success.

Digital resilience is the new watchword in a post-COVID-19 world

The ability to respond and adapt quickly to new situations has never been more stark than during the pandemic. The crisis has taught organizations that a new level of agility and digital resilience is needed across ecosystems, partners and the supply chain. The focus for any would-be intelligent enterprise should evolve the capabilities created to manage the impact of Covid-19 into productive analytics hubs, capable of using leading indicators to predict and react to future risk with greater frequency, while simultaneously discovering hidden future opportunities. Those that fail to implement an effective enterprise data model enabling the foundation for resilient decision-making by 2021 are forecasted to underperform on profitability by 10% according to IDC.

Data at the core – but how can you trust it?

The volume of data being created is quickly surpassing the rate at which computing and storage systems are being developed. According to IDC, the amount of data available will be enough to fully occupy a stack of tablets measuring 6.6 times the distance between the moon and the earth by the end of this year. The point is, both external and internal data are growing at such a rate, 26% year over year, that ensuring data is available in a meaningful, operationalized way is becoming more important as a core discipline. By definition, the volume, velocity and variety of big data is creating huge operational pressure – called the data-decision gap.

According to KPMG, 56% of CEOs don’t trust the integrity of their data. That said, when the analytical models and technology they use to guide decision-making work with untrustworthy data, they naturally doubt its recommendations. It’s become important to understand the context of your data so you can reveal the unseen and, in some cases, unexpected connections that either create risk or opportunity.

A new generation of intelligent decision-making

The lack of a single, trusted view of data across an organization is a serious obstacle to data-driven decision intelligence. Without this, decisions can’t be automated in an accurate or efficient way, and individual entities such as customers and transactions, cannot be properly and fully understood and analyzed. However, reliable data integration, especially at scale, is difficult, which is why data becomes stuck in multiple silos – inhibiting the connected single view and holistic, contextual analysis that is desired. Traditional rules-based approaches to decision support are not sufficiently agile or resilient in today’s uncertain and rapidly changing business and geopolitical environment – advanced analytics, machine learning, and AI are needed to empower users or automate key processes.

The good news is that new approaches and innovations to data and analytics show a path forward for maximizing the value enterprises can get from their data.

Entity resolution and network generation, surfaced through graph analytics, are key to understanding relationships and behaviors of customers and third parties in the supply chain, resulting in better, faster operational decisions. By integrating the right data, decision makers can become empowered as their new insights come from finding explainable links between fully understood, trusted data in a single view provided by entity resolution.

Machine learning to deliver big, but not without human input

Less than 15% of analytics adopters have made progress with automated decisions. This is a big problem, especially when dealing with large complex data sets. Deployment of fully automated operational decision-making moves analytics from reactive reporting to active, intelligent, and real-time decision-making. As more tasks are automated, the enterprise can focus more on differentiating work.

The key to this is augmentation – combining the best of human and machine intelligence. This allows repeatable routines of work to be fully automated and exceptional cases requiring fine judgement to be dealt with by humans. A great benefit of augmented analytics is that it accelerates the formulation of new data and analytics capabilities which, in effect, can be adapted to the skills, needs and problems of different classes of business user, which extends the reach of analytics across an organization. By maximizing the value of human and machine intelligence, there is a clear path to creating an effective data-driven enterprise.

Organization implications – creating the ability to adapt

To shift to a data-driven enterprise, business leaders need to reimagine how they operationalize the data they consume and analyze. The key to this is gaining a trusted, contextual, connected single view of the vast amounts of data that now exist for better decision-making.

Analytics now drives today’s enterprise, from formation of business strategy to powering operational excellence. Creating a culture of collaboration and getting the best out of humans alongside machines is crucial. Analytics has clearly moved from being an optional extra to serving as the core of decision-making, so creating a data-centric contextual decision intelligence framework has never been more important.

The C-suite and all business leaders need to spearhead a change across the enterprise to help drive adoption and utilization of advanced analytics. Before the pandemic, data and analytics were already the new competitive differentiators. But now, creating the right level of digital resilience across an organization that can adapt and change quickly in response to external pressure and threats will set the foundation for the enterprises that ultimately survive and thrive. The key questions we should all be asking ourselves are how well do we trust the data that we use to make decisions?  And how can organizations implement decision intelligence to ensure future sustainability and growth?

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