“For the next few months, me and my wife were up morning to night, packaging orders and making the dreaded trip to the post office every day to drop off the packages,” Mr. Schmerling said.
Another start-up, SnackMagic, entered to help.
Its roots trace back to March of last year, when a food delivery service called Stadium was on track to have its best month ever. Founded in 2018, Stadium carved out a niche for the business lunch where no one can decide among sushi, salads or burgers. Its group ordering systems allowed employees to pick whatever they wanted from a variety of restaurants. Stadium collected the food and delivered it to the office.
The pandemic, and New York City office closures, caused Stadium’s business to evaporate overnight, so a co-founder, Shaunak Amin, and other executives scrambled to find a Plan B. They eventually realized that a number of snack companies were sitting on tons of bars, cookies and drinks that grocery stores and others didn’t want because they were focusing on essential goods.
Stadium had a side business of allowing office workers to throw a snack — a bag of chips or a cookie — into their food order. Now, that would become Stadium’s primary business. Two months later, SnackMagic was allowing companies to send boxes of snacks to people working at home — a treat ahead of a Zoom meeting or simply a thank-you, Mr. Amin said.
When the company started, he said, it had 75 brands and 250 unique items. Now it’s up to 300 brands and 850 items, adding about 10 to 15 applications to get onto the platform each day.
As employees begin to trickle back into offices, the question for Lupii and other companies is: Where are people going to want to try a new snack?
Many are betting consumers will still want novelty at home. Others have said some office micro kitchens are cutting budgets, uncertain how many employees will return to the office on a regular basis.
Long before the coronavirus hit, nutrition programs that served the nation’s older adults struggled to keep up with a growing demand. Often, they could not.
In Charlotte, N.C., and nine surrounding counties, for example, the waiting list for Meals on Wheels averaged about 1,200 people. But Linda Miller, director of the Centralina Area Agency on Aging, which coordinates the program, always assumed the actual need was higher.
She knew some clients skipped meals because they couldn’t travel to a senior center for a hot lunch every weekday; some divided a single home-delivered meal to serve as both lunch and dinner.
Some never applied for help. “Just like with food stamps, which are underused,” Ms. Miller said, “people are embarrassed: ‘I worked hard all my life; I don’t want charity.’”
5.4 million older recipients.
For years, advocates for older adults have lobbied Congress for more significant federal help. Although the Older Americans Act has enjoyed bipartisan support, small annual upticks in appropriations left 5,000 local organizations constantly lagging in their ability to feed seniors.
From 2001 to 2019, funding for the Older Americans Act rose an average of 1.1 percent annually — a 22 percent increase over almost two decades, according to an analysis by the AARP Public Policy Institute. But adjusted for inflation, the funding for nutrition services actually fell 8 percent. State and local matching funds, foundation grants and private donations helped keep kitchens open and drivers delivering, but many programs still could not bridge their budget gaps.
food insecure,” meaning they had limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
And that shortfall was before the pandemic. Once programs hastily closed congregant settings last spring, a Meals on Wheels America survey found that nearly 80 percent of the programs reported that new requests for home-delivered meals had at least doubled; waiting lists grew by 26 percent.
Along with money, the Covid relief legislation gave these local programs needed flexibility. Normally, to qualify for Meals on Wheels, homebound clients must require assistance with activities of daily living. The emergency appropriations allowed administrators to serve less frail seniors who were following stay-at-home orders, and to transfer money freely from congregant centers to home delivery.
Even so, the increased caseloads, with people who had never applied before seeking meals, left some administrators facing dire decisions.
In Northern Arizona, about 800 clients were receiving home-delivered meals in February 2020. By June, that number had ballooned to 1,265, including new applicants as well as those who had previously eaten at the program’s 18 now-shuttered senior centers. Clients were receiving 14 meals each week.
By summer, despite federal relief funds, “I was out of money,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. She faced the grim task of telling 342 seniors, who had been added to the rolls for three emergency months, that she had to remove them. “People were crying on the phone,” she recalled. “I literally had a man say he was going to commit suicide.” (She reinstated him.) Even those who remained started receiving five meals a week instead of 14.
diminish loneliness and help keep seniors out of expensive nursing homes. They also may help reduce falls, although those findings were based on a small sample and did not achieve statistical significance.
Interestingly, Dr. Thomas’s research found daily meal deliveries had greater effects than weekly or twice-monthly drop-offs of frozen meals, a practice many local organizations have adopted to save money.
Frail or forgetful clients may have trouble storing, preparing and remembering to eat frozen meals. But the primary reason daily deliveries pay off, her study shows, is the regular chats with drivers.
“They build relationships with their clients,” Dr. Thomas said. “They might come back later to fix a rickety handrail. If they’re worried about a client’s health, they let the program know. The drivers are often the only people they see all day, so these relationships are very important.”
a prepandemic evaluation found.
So while program administrators relish a rare opportunity to expand their reach, they worry that if Congress doesn’t sustain this higher level of appropriations, the relief money will be spent and waiting lists will reappear.
“There’s going to be a cliff,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. “What’s going to happen next time? I don’t want to have to call people and say, ‘We’re done with you now.’ These are our grandparents.”
Erick Williams, the executive chef and owner of Virtue, a Southern restaurant in Chicago, said his staff of 22 employees is about half the size it was before the pandemic. “People aren’t even showing up for interviews these days,” he said.
If he can’t hire more help before business increases with the growth of outdoor dining, Mr. Williams said, “all of a sudden, you got to pay more overtime, and you’re running the risk of burning out your staff.”
The tight job market has helped hasten changes that restaurant workers pushed for during the shutdowns, including higher pay and better working conditions. Ms. Button has raised wages in accordance with recommendations made by One Fair Wage, an advocacy group for service workers, and is paying $150 bonuses to employees who refer new hires who stay on the job for more than 90 days.
The starting wage for kitchen employees at Mr. Acheson’s Atlanta restaurants is $14 to $15 per hour, he said, up from $12 before the pandemic. “People will walk down the street for a buck more — and they should,” he said.
Mike Traud, the program director of the Department of Food and Hospitality Management at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, said intense competition for talent makes this an opportune time for people to break into the restaurant business. He said this is particularly true in the Northeast, where restaurants on the coast are hiring for the tourism season.
“You have more leverage,” he said, “and there are more opportunities to get into upper-level kitchens.”
Many people, though, may be reluctant to take up or return to restaurant work, given the health risks that some studies have linked to serving customers, particularly indoors. Many restaurateurs are also concerned that resuming indoor dining too quickly could cause another spike in Covid infections. (This week, the Aspen Institute’s Food and Society Program released a set of safety guidelines it developed, in partnership with other industry groups, for diners and restaurant employees to continue following.)
the hotel operator Extended Stay America for $6 billion, the latest deal premised on a post-pandemic rebound in travel.
The deal is a bet that the mid-tier hotel chain that provides guests with amenities like kitchens and laundry facilities will prosper as the U.S. economy recovers. The chain had a 74 percent occupancy rate last year, above the industry average, with many rooms filled by essential workers.
The company’s new owners hope those rooms will soon add more tourists and traveling professionals. Extended Stay has about 600 locations across the United States.
“Our occupancy levels across the brand now rival the pre-Covid levels,” Bruce Haase, Extended Stay’s chief executive, told analysts on the company’s earnings call last month. “And unlike the rest of the industry that was still reaching for occupancy, we can now turn much of our attention to driving higher rates.”
The company’s shares have more than doubled over the past year, and the acquisition offer is a 15 percent premium to its closing stock price at the end of last week.
Starwood and Blackstone both have experience investing in hospitality, and Blackstone has even owned Extended Stay before — twice. It acquired the company for $3.1 billion in 2004, before selling it three years later for $8 billion. It was also part of a consortium that bought the business out of bankruptcy in 2010, outbidding a group led by Starwood Capital. Extended Stay then went public in 2013.
Other private equity firms have similarly bet on a recovery of the hospitality industry. Apollo Global Management announced plans this month to join with Vici Properties to acquire the Venetian hotel and casino in a $6.25 billion deal that also includes the Las Vegas property’s large expo center.
The payments company Stripe is worth $95 billion after a new round of funding, making it the most valuable start-up in the United States.
The San Francisco and Dublin-based company said on Sunday that it had raised $600 million in new funding from investors including Sequoia Capital, Fidelity Management and Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency. The investment nearly triples Stripe’s last valuation of $35 billion.
The funding comes amid a surge in the adoption of digital tools and services in the pandemic as more people live, work and make purchases online. That has fueled a wave of investment into, and eye-popping valuations at, tech start-ups, as well as a frenzy of highly valued initial public offerings. Investors have valued Airbnb, the home rental start-up that recently went public, at $123 billion. Roblox, a kids gaming start-up, saw its valuation soar to $45 billion when it went public last week.
Founded in 2010, Stripe builds software that enables businesses to process payments online. As more people have turned to online shopping in the pandemic, Stripe’s offerings have been in demand. It is the largest among a class of fast-growing, highly valued financial technology companies.
Stripe is now processing hundreds of billions of dollars in payments each year across 42 countries, Dhivya Suryadevara, Stripe’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “We are in a hyper-growth industry and within that, the company itself is experiencing hyper-growth,” she said. Ms. Suryadevara declined to share specifics on Stripe’s revenue or growth.
Stripe has been considered a candidate to go public. Coinbase, another financial technology start-up, filed to go public later this month in a transaction that some expect could hit $100 billion. Robinhood, a stock trading app, has also seen its valuation surge in the pandemic.
Stripe said in an announcement that it planned to use the money to expand in Europe, including its office in Dublin. The company’s sibling founders, John Collison, 30, and Patrick, 32, were born in Ireland.
In a statement, John Collison, Stripe’s president, said the company would focus heavily on Europe this year. “The growth opportunity for the European digital economy is immense,” he said.
The company, which got its start working with start-ups and small businesses, will also invest in building more tools to help larger businesses handle payments. It counts 50 businesses that process more than $1 billion a year as customers.
President Biden has tapped Gene Sperling, a longtime top economic aide to Democratic presidents, to oversee spending from the $1.9 trillion relief package that the president signed into law last week and planned to promote across the country this week.
Mr. Sperling was director of the National Economic Council under President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. In Mr. Obama’s administration, where he first served as a counselor in the Treasury Department, Mr. Sperling helped to coordinate a bailout of Detroit automakers and other parts of the administration’s response to the 2008 financial crisis.
He advised Mr. Biden’s campaign informally in 2020, helping to hone the campaign’s “Build Back Better” policy agenda. He will serve as the White House American Rescue Plan coordinator and as a senior adviser to Mr. Biden.
His appointment could be announced as soon as today. Mr. Biden is scheduled to give remarks on the implementation of his relief bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, on Monday afternoon. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters last week that Mr. Biden intended to appoint someone to “run point” on implementing the plan — a role that Mr. Biden held for the Obama administration’s $800 billion stimulus plan in 2009.
Mr. Sperling did not respond to a message seeking comment. Friends have described him in recent months as eager to join the administration, and he had been mentioned as a possible appointee to head the Office of Management and Budget after Mr. Biden’s first nominee for that position, Neera Tanden, withdrew amid Senate opposition. His appointment was reported earlier by Politico.
Mr. Sperling’s challenge with the rescue plan will be different than the one Mr. Biden faced in 2009, because the relief bill that Mr. Biden just signed differs starkly from Mr. Obama’s signature stimulus plan. The Biden plan is more than twice as large as Mr. Obama’s, and it centers on a wide range of payments to low- and middle-income Americans, including $1,400-per-person direct checks that Treasury officials started sending electronically to Americans over the weekend. It includes money meant to hasten the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, including billions for vaccine deployment and coronavirus testing.
But the plans also have similarities, including more than $400 billion each in total spending for school districts and state and local governments.
An administration official said Mr. Sperling would work with White House officials and leaders of federal agencies to hasten the delivery of the money, including partnering with state and local governments on their shares of relief spending from the bill.
A deal that would reshape the American newspaper industry has run into complications just one month after an agreement was reached, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
As a result, the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital may have to fend off a new suitor for Tribune Publishing, the chain that owns major metropolitan dailies across the country, including The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, the people said.
On Feb. 16, Alden, the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, with a 32 percent stake, reached an agreement to buy the rest of the chain in a deal that valued the company at $630 million, reports The New York Times’s Marc Tracy. In the deal, Alden would take ownership of all the Tribune Publishing papers — and then spin off The Sun and two smaller Maryland papers, selling them for $65 million to a nonprofit organization controlled by the Maryland hotel magnate Stewart W. Bainum Jr.
In recent days, Mr. Bainum and Alden have found themselves at loggerheads over details of the operating agreements that would be in effect as the Maryland papers transitioned from one owner to another, the people said. In response, Mr. Bainum has taken a preliminary step toward making a bid for all of Tribune Publishing, the people said.
Mr. Bainum has asked a special committee of the Tribune Publishing board made up of three independent directors for permission to be released from a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from discussing the deal, so that he would be able to pursue partners for a new bid, the people said.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Bainum said he had no comment. Through a spokesman, Tribune Publishing’s special committee declined to comment. An Alden spokesman had no comment.
The pharmaceutical industry is popular right now, which is perhaps unsurprising considering that the end of the pandemic depends on Covid-19 vaccines. Drug makers’ rapid response to the crisis has transformed public sentiment about the industry, moving it from one of the most reviled to one of the most respected, according to new data from the Harris Poll, reported first in the DealBook newsletter.
A year of living in existential and economic fear created unlikely heroes. For the past year or so, the Harris Poll has monitored public sentiment in weekly surveys of more than 114,000 people. At the height of the emergency, more than half of respondents were afraid of dying from the virus and a similar share were afraid of losing their jobs. “Only in the past month, with vaccines rising and hospitalizations and deaths declining, is fear abating,” the report noted.
Business generally got good grades during the pandemic. Many respondents cited companies as important to solving problems, where previously they were considered the cause of social woes. Two-thirds said that companies could do a better job coordinating the vaccine rollout than the government could.
Approval ratings rose for many industries from January last year to February this year. But the reputation of the pharma industry — stained by its role in the opioid crisis and criticized for high drug prices — benefited the most. In January 2020, only 32 percent of respondents viewed the industry positively; late last month, that had almost doubled, to 62 percent.
“The pharmaceutical industry’s ability to innovate and perform under intense pressure and in a time of crisis is the ultimate validation for any business,” said John Gerzema, the chief executive of the Harris Poll.
More than 400 workers at a Tesla plant in California tested positive for the coronavirus between May and December, according to public health data released by a transparency website.
The data provides the first glimpse into virus cases at Tesla, whose chief executive, Elon Musk, had played down the severity of the pandemic and reopened the plant, in Fremont, Calif., in May in defiance of guidelines issued by local public health officials.
Automakers across the country halted production and closed plants for two months last year from mid-March until mid-May. After resuming production, other automakers publicly announced when workers had tested positive for the virus and halted production to prevent further infection among employees and to disinfect work areas.
Tesla, however, has released little information about employee coronavirus cases.
The data was obtained by the website PlainSite, which works to make legal and governmental documents publicly accessible. It showed that 440 cases were reported at the Tesla plant, which employs some 10,000 people. The number of cases rose to 125 in December from fewer than 11 in May.
A year ago, after officials in California ordered manufacturing plants to close, Mr. Musk suggested on Twitter that the measure was unnecessary and that cases in the United States would be “close to zero.”
He also called virus restrictions “fascist,” threatened to move Tesla out of California, and then reopened the plant a week before health officials said it was safe to do so. More recently, Mr. Musk has questioned on Twitter the effectiveness of Covid vaccines.
Allison Herren Lee was named acting chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in January, and she has been active since, especially when it comes to environmental, social and governance issues.
The agency has issued a flurry of notices that such disclosures will be priorities this year. On Monday, Ms. Lee, who was appointed as a commissioner by President Donald J. Trump in 2019, is speaking at the Center for American Progress, where she will call for input on additional E.S.G. transparency, according to prepared remarks reviewed by the DealBook newsletter.
The supposed distinction between what’s good and what’s profitable is diminishing, Ms. Lee will argue in the speech, saying that “acting in pursuit of the public interest and acting to maximize the bottom line” are complementary.
The S.E.C.’s job is to meet investor demand for data on a range of corporate activities. “That demand is not being met by the current voluntary framework,” she will say. “Human capital, human rights, climate change — these issues are fundamental to our markets, and investors want to and can help drive sustainable solutions on these issues.”
Ms. Lee will also argue that “political spending disclosure is inextricably linked to E.S.G. issues,” based on research showing that many companies have made climate pledges while donating to candidates with contradictory voting records. The same goes for racial justice initiatives, she will say.
AlthoughMs. Lee is only the acting chief, she’s laying the groundwork for more action, based on recent statements by Gary Gensler, President Biden’s choice to lead the S.E.C. In his confirmation hearing this month, Mr. Gensler said that investors increasingly wanted companies to disclose risks associated with climate change, diversity, political spending and other E.S.G. issues.
Not everyone at the S.E.C. is on board. Hester Peirce and Elad Roisman, fellow commissioners also appointed by Mr. Trump, recently protested the “steady flow” of climate and E.S.G. notices. They issued a public statement, asking, “Do these announcements represent a change from current commission practices or a continuation of the status quo with a new public relations twist?”
Data delayed at least 15 minutes
Stocks on Wall Street were little changed on Monday after closing at a new high on Friday. Most European stock indexes were higher.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes, a key driver of stock market movement lately, fell to 1.61 percent on Monday. It had climbed as high as 1.64 percent on Friday, a level not seen since February 2020, as investors considered whether a nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package would be inflationary alongside an expected economic recovery as more Americans are vaccinated.
But on Sunday, Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, pushed back against these concerns. “Is there a risk of inflation? I think there’s a small risk and I think it’s manageable,” she said on ABC. She added that she expected prices to rise over the spring and summer but only temporarily because of how much they fell last year.
“We have had very well-anchored inflation expectations and a Federal Reserve that’s learned about how to manage inflation,” Ms. Yellen said.
The S&P 500 dipped in early trading, while the Nasdaq composite was up slightly. The Dow Jones industrial average was flat.
West Texas Intermediate crude, the American benchmark, fell about 1.4 percent to below $65 a barrel.
The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.2 percent, led higher by gains in health care and consumer stocks. The FTSE 100 in Britain fell 0.2 percent.
Shares in Flutter Entertainment, a British betting and entertainment company, rose nearly 7 percent after it confirmed that it was considering publicly listing shares of FanDuel, its U.S. sports betting website.
The board of Danone, the French food company, said Monday it had removed its chairman and chief executive, Emmanuel Faber. Its share price rose about 3 percent. The shake-up comes after a monthslong campaign by activist investors, The Financial Times reported. Under Mr. Faber, Danone changed its legal status to be a purpose-driven company with a social mission of “health through food.” Danone’s water and dairy brands include Evian, Alpro and Silk.
Shares in Tencent were at their lowest in two months, dropping 3.5 percent on Monday after a loss of 4.4 percent on Friday. The Chinese tech company is facing a crackdown from antitrust regulators, Bloomberg reported.
ROME — On an icy evening last month, Akas Kazi, a 35-year-old originally from Bangladesh, huddled under a blanket in the portico of one of Rome’s main post offices, as Red Cross volunteers distributed hot meals of pasta and tea.
Working in a restaurant kitchen had barely paid the bills, but after the restaurant closed six months ago — yet another casualty of the pandemic — Mr. Kazi found himself living on the street. “No work, no money for rent,” he said.
Job searches had been fruitless: “There’s nothing,” he said. And even sleeping on friends’ couches was not an option. “Everyone has problems because of Covid.”
The winter has been especially hard: Since November, 12 homeless people have died on the streets of Rome, where a growing number of people have ended up because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rome branch of the Catholic charity Caritas.
Community of St. Egidio, a Catholic charity. Capacity there fell to 10 beds from 30, after wooden partitions were erected between the cots to ensure social distancing.
Caritas estimates that some 7,700 people are on the streets. Some social workers put the number at almost twice that. For City Hall, “those are absurd numbers” and don’t reflect reality, said Veronica Mammì, the municipal councilor in charge of social services, who estimated the number of homeless at closer to 3,000.
Daniele Archibugi of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, Italian Research Council, who is studying the financial impact of the pandemic in Italy, noted that many Italians work in the country’s informal economy and are not recorded, “so one of the problems is to find and reach them.”
isolation shelter, repeatedly testing its guests, who must remain there for 10 days before they are sent to other refuges.
Of the 200 men who have passed through the shelter in the past month, only one tested positive. “It’s almost miraculous,” said Mr. Farneti. (There is some anecdotal evidence that the isolated lives of homeless people make them less vulnerable to the virus.)
Rome’s Red Cross. “And the homeless suffer because bars and restaurants are closed so it’s more difficult to find food.”
association that lobbies for the rights of the homeless.
Twice a week, and more often when it’s cold, the Red Cross team brings food and blankets, as well as face masks and hand sanitizer, to those whom Emiliano Loppa, a volunteer coordinator, described as Rome’s “most isolated people.” They live downtown in makeshift camps under the bridges along the Tiber River, under porticos and even in the nooks of ancient ruins.
died on the streets, including Modesta Valenti, who became something of an icon when she died in 1983 after an ambulance refused to transport her.
Over the past year, the number of homeless people has “clearly increased,” Mr. Signifredi said. with a housing crisis adding to the problem, even though the government made evictions illegal during the state of emergency. “We have said that the pandemic unleashed the poverty of the penultimate — those who barely made it to the end of the month and now can’t make it to the 10th, so they come to us or Caritas,” he said.
St. Egidio has opened several new dormitories and also drafted an agreement with a hotel whose rooms had been empty since the pandemic began. But it’s not enough. “We’ve asked authorities to react more quickly to emergencies,” because the emergency was not going away anytime soon, he said.
“The kind of poverty has changed,” said Claudio Campani, a coordinator of the Forum for Street Volunteers, an umbrella group for some 50 associations that assist Rome’s homeless. “Now you have the so-called ‘new poor’ who go to live in their cars before ending up on the street.” And while many homeless people are immigrants, “the number of Italians has increased,” he said.
For Mr. Pavani, the year has been one long cautionary tale.
“The thread that binds us to normality is so fine that it can take very little — loss of work, a weakness, a separation — for that thread to break and for us to fall and lose our life story and roots,” he said.
Starbucks has employees at hundreds of busy locations strolling through car lines, taking orders with hand-held devices so customers can get their caffeine fix a few seconds faster. Shake Shack, which has long emphasized that quality ingredients are worth waiting a few extra minutes for, will soon feature its first drive-through window. And the vast majority of new Chipotles this year will have “Chipotlanes,” where customers can drive up to a window and pull away with preordered meals in less than a minute.
With dining room restrictions in place for much of the country during the pandemic, drive-through and pickup windows became critical ways for a variety of restaurants to remain afloat.
Now, as the dining industry looks toward a post-pandemic world, many companies are betting big that digital ordering and drive-throughs will remain integral to their success. And the basic experience of sitting in a single line of cars, speaking into a sometimes garbled intercom and pulling up to window to pay for your food before driving away is poised to be demonstrably altered for the first time in decades.
has been sued by neighboring businesses that say its long drive-through lines block their customers’ access.
For most restaurants, the solution has many parts. First, more are trying to encourage customers to use ordering apps, which improve the accuracy of orders and are often connected to loyalty programs that give them points for free food. They are also trying to figure out how to best speed consumers through the drive-through or pickup process without disrupting traffic patterns or other businesses.
Drive-through times average 4 minutes and 15 seconds, according to Bluedot, a geolocation company. Like a Daytona 500 pit crew, restaurants are always looking for ways to shave off minutes, or even seconds.
To be competitive in this race, Chipotle, whose digital orders soared from 20 percent of its sales to as high as 70 percent at the height of the pandemic, installed in many of its kitchens a second assembly line where employees put together tacos or burrito bowls for mobile and online orders exclusively.
The chain also expects that 70 percent of its restaurants that open this year will have the dedicated Chipotlanes for online orders.
“In the traditional drive-through experience, you wait in line to order, you wait in line to pay and pick up, you wait in line for your food to be prepared,” said Jack Hartung, the chief financial officer of Chipotle. “We’re trying to get our service time from when you pull up to the restaurant, pick up your food and drive off to 40 or 50 seconds.”
Others, like McDonald’s and Burger King, are adding multiple drive-through lanes, which have been a feature at some busy fast-food spots like Chick-fil-A but are becoming more commonplace. Burger King is running three-lane tests in the United States, Brazil and Spain. In the U.S. and Spain, the third lane is “express” for advance orders made through the app. In Brazil, the lane takes delivery drivers to a pickup area with food lockers or shelves.
Burger King is also looking to propel its drive-throughs into the future with a Big-Brother-like artificial intelligence system, Deep Flame.
Right now, roughly half of Burger King’s drive-throughs with digital menu boards are using Deep Flame’s technology to suggest foods that are particularly popular in the area that day. It also uses outside factors, like the weather, to highlight items like an iced coffee on a hot day.
But this year, Burger King is testing a Bluetooth technology that will be able to identify customers in Burger King’s loyalty program and show their previous orders. If a customer ordered a small Sprite and a Whopper with cheese, hold the pickles, the last three visits, Deep Flame will calculate that chances are high that the customer will want the same order again.
It’s unclear whether the technology pays off. McDonald’s is moving in a similar direction. The fast-food giant acquired the Israeli artificial intelligence firm Dynamic Yield in 2019 with an eye toward boosting sales by providing personalized digital promotions to customers.
Restaurant Brands International — the parent company of Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes — hopes to have the predictive personalized systems at more than 10,000 of its restaurants’ locations across North America by mid-2022.
“We’re taking what was an outdated, old, static sales channel and bringing it to the forefront of the industry,” said Duncan Fulton, the chief corporate officer for Restaurant Brands International. Now, customers can have the “the ability to automatically reorder things and pay for the items at the board, which, ultimately, speeds up the window time, allowing you to collect your food and go on your way.”
A chair sits in the middle of Holiday Market, a specialty grocer near Detroit, and if customers are lucky, they’ll find Tom Violante Sr. sitting in it. The 91-year-old founder still comes to work most days — and he knows where everything is in its 60,000 square feet.
“He asks everyone if they found what they wanted,” said his son, Tom Violante Jr., who operates the store with his sister and brother-in-law. “If they haven’t, he’ll tell them which aisle it is in, how many steps it takes to get there, and where it’s located, knee, head or belly high.”
That’s the type of customer service the store, in Royal Oak, Mich., is known for. So, when Tom Violante Jr. began considering offering online grocery shopping, he wanted to provide that same level of care. He didn’t expect the service to be a huge revenue generator, but he saw the future coming, as online brands such as Chewy and Winc wooed his customers away. In 2019, he assembled a team to build an online platform that could handle the store’s 60,000 items.
Big e-commerce businesses also absorbed nearly 60 percent of all warehouse space available last year, according to real estate analysts at CoStar Group.
“The big just got bigger,” said Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst with eMarketer.
For small businesses, he said, the benefit was wildly uneven. There were winner sectors, such as grocery, health and fitness, and direct-to-consumer brands, but apparel boutiques and other specialty retailers — especially those without existing e-commerce platforms — struggled.
“The pandemic accelerated the growth of online commerce,” said Loren Padelford, vice president of Shopify, the e-commerce platform that predominantly serves independent retailers. “It woke a lot of people up to the idea that if you have to close your physical door, you need to have a digital door.”
been using Instagram, TikTok and Clubhouse to connect directly with shoppers. She has developed a following on those platforms, she said, because she doesn’t post just about the products. She posts about what matters to her: the struggles of building a business, her upbringing, even confusion about what she is “supposed to look like” as the owner of a beauty brand.
“This is so different from the last version of the brand,” Ms. Roy said. “It’s less transactional, more authentic to who I am. It has really contributed to our growth.”
In 2020, the company recorded $1 million in sales, Ms. Roy said. This year, she anticipates $6 million.
the Peacock Room, Frida and Yama. “E-commerce websites are not a magical solution for saving small retail,” she said.
For one, Ms. Lutz couldn’t find a good way to manage inventory across two sales channels. She carries a number of unique and specialty items, and she worried than an online customer could buy an item just as someone picked it up off a store shelf. And stocking separate inventories for online and in-store was too expensive. She also didn’t want to use her retail spaces as shipping and logistics centers when the cost of renting them is so much higher than warehouse space.
In the end, she realized being a community-centered business was the most important thing. “I might be less efficient, but I have a more special and unique business and that’s what draws people to our store,” Ms. Lutz said.
Live Cycle Delight fitness studio in Detroit, is putting on her own show. She wishes she could just point a camera at one of her yoga or spinning instructors and start running Instagram Live, but she knows she needs high production values if she wants her customers to maintain their memberships. So Ms. Daniels built a mini production studio inside her spin room, investing thousands in microphones, lights and a film crew to produce on-demand video classes.
But no matter how much she invests in her digital platform, it’s hard to go up against Peloton, which is well capitalized and has entire teams producing its digital classes. Last fiscal year, that company saw its sales surge 100 percent even as Live Cycle Delight’s revenue fell 80 percent.
“Our competition changed,” Ms. Daniels said. “We’re not just competing with the gym down the street. Titans like Peloton and SoulCycle, they are true beneficiaries of this pandemic. We are working twice as hard to compete with those titans and with celebrity trainers.”
About 30 customers left Live Cycle Delight for Peloton, Ms. Daniels said, but she found support in other ways. With the movement to support Black-owned businesses, people donated to her, and there was healthy demand for the studio’s branded merchandise, such as Pilates balls, T-shirts and booty bands, the stretchy bands that add resistance to a workout. These goods have proved so popular that Ms. Daniels struggles to keep them in stock on her website.
Between the products, outdoor classes in the summer and memberships, she has been able to keep the three-year-old business open. The shift to e-commerce hasn’t been perfect, she said, but it’s been worth it. She reminds herself why she started the studio: to make fitness more accessible and inclusive.
“Peloton is just one kind of experience,” she said. “We’re still here providing clients with an option to join us on the quest of better.”