ez Monkey Acquisition, McAI and Kitchens Without Borders

This edition of MRM’s News Bites features ezCater and Monkey Group, McDonald's and Dynamic Yield, Thanx and Olo, DoorDash, USFoods, Ritual and Gregorys Coffee, Wi5, Red Robin and Impossible Foods, SOCi,  Cognizant and Jack in the Box and Flores Financial and Plate IQ. 

Send news items to Barbara Castiglia at bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com.

ezCater Acquires Monkey Group

ezCater® acquired Monkey Group, an enterprise software, training, and insights company, and developers of MONKEY™, the cloud platform for takeout, delivery, and catering. The acquisition marries the world’s largest online catering marketplace with the world’s most popular catering management software.

Catering, the largest growth opportunity for most restaurants, requires a dedicated suite of solutions. More than 60,000 restaurants and caterers already use ezCater’s platform to grow and manage their catering business; more than 8,000 use MONKEY to manage their off-premises channels. Now, ezCater’s fully integrated marketplace and software platform offers restaurants and caterers more catering orders than any other source, plus best-in-class catering software, expertise, and data. Integrations with POS, loyalty, and back-of-the-house systems allow orders and data to flow across their entire operation.

“ezCater’s and Monkey Group’s strengths line up exceptionally well,” said Stefania Mallett, Co-founder and CEO at ezCater. “Combining Monkey Group’s industry leading offerings with ezCater’s nationwide online marketplace, expert marketing engine, and API-first platform results in faster, more profitable growth for restaurants.”

Erle Dardick, Founder and CEO of Monkey Group, added, “Our customers tell us they want more orders, and ezCater’s marketplace drives growth for so many restaurants. We’re thrilled to join forces to help food service operators thrive even more."

Brands who use both platforms, including Einstein Bros. Bagels, McAlister’s Deli, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Schlotzsky's, will benefit from new POS integrations and streamlined data flow between the two companies’ systems.

“We have partnered with both ezCater and Monkey Media for years, and each individually has been integral to the strategic growth of our catering business," said J. Brandon Turner, CFO at Coffee & Bagel Brands, owners of Einstein Bros. Bagels, Caribou Coffee, and more. “We look forward to seeing what these companies can do together to unlock further catering growth for us.”

The Vancouver-headquartered Monkey Group, now operating as MonkeySoft Solutions™, Inc. (MSI), will maintain its existing brands, MONKEYMEDIA™ Software, The Catering Institute™, and Off-Premise Insights.

McDonald's Acquire AI Firm

McDonald's  will acquire Dynamic Yield, a leader in personalization and decision logic technology and utilize this decision technology to provide an even more personalized customer experience by varying outdoor digital Drive Thru menu displays to show food based on time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items. The decision technology can also instantly suggest and display additional items to a customer's order based on their current selections.   

This will enable McDonald's to be one of the first companies to integrate decision technology into the customer point of sale at a brick and mortar location. McDonald's tested this technology in several U.S. restaurants in 2018. Upon closing of the acquisition, McDonald's will begin to roll this technology out in the Drive Thru at restaurants in the United States in 2019 and then expand the use to other top international markets. McDonald's will also begin work to integrate the technology into all of its digital customer experience touchpoints, such as self-order kiosks and McDonald's Global Mobile App.    

Dynamic Yield's ability to meet McDonald's customer needs, coupled with their commitment to grow capabilities around ever-changing consumer trends and evolving marketing technologies, allows for the continued advancement and elevation of the McDonald's customer experience with technology and innovation.   

McDonald’s President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook pictured in front of a drive-thru digital menu board, which will utilize Dynamic Yield’s decision logic technology to enhance the customer experience.

"Technology is a critical element of our Velocity Growth Plan, enhancing the experience for our customers by providing greater convenience on their terms," said Steve Easterbrook, President and Chief Executive Officer, McDonald's Corporation. "With this acquisition, we're expanding both our ability to increase the role technology and data will play in our future and the speed with which we'll be able to implement our vision of creating more personalised experiences for our customers."  

Liad Agmon, co-founder and CEO of Dynamic Yield, added: "We started Dynamic Yield seven years ago with the premise that customer-centric brands must make personalization a core activity.  We're thrilled to be joining an iconic global brand such as McDonald's and are excited to innovate in ways that have a real impact on people's daily lives."

McDonald's recent advancements in the tech space – including the development of McDonald's Global Mobile App, Mobile Order and Pay, indoor and outdoor digital menu boards and self-order kiosks – have transformed customer experiences in and around its restaurants, by giving customers more ways to pay and personalize their orders to meet their needs.    

Upon closing, McDonald's will become sole owner and will continue to invest in Dynamic Yield's core personalization product and world-class teams. Dynamic Yield will remain a stand-alone company and employees will continue to operate out of offices around the world. Dynamic Yield will also continue to serve their current, and attract future, clients.   

Bill Poulos, Co-founder and President of Profits Run, Inc., recently revealed the significance of McDonald’s largest acquisition deal in almost two decades. Poulos explained, “Dynamic Yield, the company the fast food giant wishes to purchase, specializes in personalization and decision logic technology, two types of tech that McDonald’s wants to use to customize their drive-thru menus based on different variables – like the weather, restaurant traffic, or customer patterns. At $300 million, the blockbuster deal is the biggest “get” for McDonald’s in two decades and signals an industry-wide shift to the digital age of fast food. By maximizing customer convenience, McDonald’s hopes to generate additional revenue across the country via a more simplified ordering process. Though McDonald’s digital renaissance may be beneficial for the company long-term, some franchise owners are less enthused by the news. The installation of the new technology has caused sales to decline short-term, as customers and employees alike are forced to work around ongoing renovations. But what’s even more concerning to many franchisers is McDonald’s continued push towards an AI-automated fast food chain. It’s only in its infancy now, but given enough time, it could eventually mushroom into a process that could makes human workers obsolete. And even if automation boosts a franchise’s bottom-line, the subsequent controversy and ethical implications of a 'robo-restaurant' could cause a PR nightmare, as employees are laid-off in favor of their digital counterparts.”

However, Poulos notes that this might be a necessary part of business growth in this day and age. He concluded, “As an industry leader, McDonald’s has a history of pushing fast food forward, and over the last 10 years, investors have been rewarded handsomely in the process.” Poulos pointed out that the McDonald’s stock has grown over 250 percent since 2009, illustrating the power of McDonald’s in an increasingly health-conscious economy.

Thanx Integrates with Olo

Thanx has integrated with Olo, an online food ordering solution for the restaurant industry. This new integration will allow restaurants to track and better understand customer spending habits whether it happens in-store or through digital or mobile ordering, and provide these restaurants with a detailed analysis of customer purchasing behavior, so they can in turn, develop more personalized, actionable and measurable customer engagement.

“As consumers increasingly embrace digital ordering for pickup and delivery, restaurants have struggled to develop a clear view into customer purchase behavior across these new channels. The result is the continuation of generic marketing tactics that simply don’t work”

Thanx is an automated customer engagement platform that gives businesses a single view of who their customer is by seamlessly combining all databases, ranging from loyalty, credit card, email marketing and more, to build a clear customer profile. Now, through this partnership, that seamless connection is extended to digital ordering via Olo, including personalized, actionable campaigns to drive customers to place orders. The new integration also allows customers to automatically opt-in to loyalty programs to easily earn rewards following their first order. 

“As consumers increasingly embrace digital ordering for pickup and delivery, restaurants have struggled to develop a clear view into customer purchase behavior across these new channels. The result is the continuation of generic marketing tactics that simply don’t work,” said Zach Goldstein, Thanx founder and CEO. "The Thanx and Olo integration is the only loyalty, marketing and ordering combination where customers can earn rewards on in-app purchases and in-store with no extra steps. This means restaurants have an accurate 360-degree view of customers no matter how they order. And better data means more personalized, efficient marketing and greater ROI."

The core benefits of the integration include: 

  • Single sign-on for customers for an easy and efficient ordering experience
  • Consolidated system of record for consumer purchasing behavior, whether in-store or off-premise
  • Loyalty accrual and redemption directly from the ordering checkout flow, helping operators attract and retain customers, while making it simple for customers to earn and redeem rewards
  • Precise marketing campaigns based on the customer’s ordering channel, delivering personalized experiences and interactions between customers and their favorite restaurants

“We are pleased to partner with Thanx to provide our restaurant partners the opportunity to better understand their customers’ ordering habits,” said Noah Glass, founder and CEO, Olo. “Today’s consumer demands the convenience that Olo provides, and restaurateurs are increasingly looking to dissect this data in meaningful ways that drives their strategic marketing plans and positions them for success. Partnering with Thanx enables our brands to achieve more with their digital programs.”

Kitchens Without Borders

 DoorDash launched Kitchens Without Borders, a social impact initiative dedicated to supporting immigrant and refugee food business entrepreneurs.


Kitchens Without Borders spotlights the human stories behind these immigrant- and refugee-owned restaurants to foster a deeper connection between customers and the people making the food we eat every day. The initiative aims to provide visibility to historically under-resourced food entrepreneurs while cultivating a more sustainable and inclusive food economy.

As part of the social impact initiative, DoorDash has launched a dedicated microsite, kitchenswithoutborders.com, featuring 10 San Francisco Bay Area food businesses. One-minute videos highlight each of the selected entrepreneurs' restaurant, cuisine, and background. Restaurants include BesharamZ Zoul CafeOnigillyLos CilantrosSabores Del SurWest Park Farm & SeaLittle Green Cyclo, top photo, Afghan VillageD'Maize, and Sweet Lime Thai Cuisine. By highlighting these merchants' stories, DoorDash is providing customers with meaningful information when choosing their next meal.

"My mom ran a Chinese restaurant with the purpose of creating a better life and fulfilling her dream of becoming a doctor," said Tony Xu, DoorDash's CEO and Co-founder. "DoorDash was founded for people like my mom—people who came here with a dream to make it on their own. With Kitchens Without Borders, we're continuing that mission to connect people and possibility."

Participating restaurants will receive several promotional opportunities through DoorDash to help elevate their business to customers. These opportunities include DoorDash-funded marketing support, $0 delivery fees for customers for up to six weeks, and prime in-app placement on the DoorDash platform to boost customer discovery and selection.

Since its founding in 2013, DoorDash has created one of the country's largest last-mile logistics solutions, fueling the growth of immigrant-owned small businesses. Kitchens Without Borders continues the company's mission to deliver good by creating more opportunities for people of all backgrounds to work and thrive in their local communities.

US Foods Opens Distribution Facility and Honors Scholars

US Foods Holding Corp. opened a newly renovated Fife, Washington distribution facility. The project began in early 2016 and has nearly doubled the size of the facility from 127,000 square feet to 240,000 square feet. The expanded footprint supports the company’s ongoing efforts to offer additional products and services to restaurants and foodservice operators across the region.


To celebrate the official opening of the new space, US Foods hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony with company leaders, government officials, local US Foods customers and other members of the community earlier today. 

“As part of our ‘Great Food. Made Easy.’ strategy, US Foods is committed to helping our independent restaurant operators across the region be successful,” said Matt Reynolds, area president, Mountain West, US Foods. “We’ve served the thriving culinary scene in Seattle for more than 20 years and we are thrilled that this investment is making it even easier for us to bring innovative, on-trend products and business solutions to more customers throughout Seattle and beyond.”

Fife Kitchen

Additions to the distribution center include a state-of-the art kitchen and training center that will be used for product demonstrations and customer ideation, and a technology center where US Foods customers can learn about the company’s industry-leading mobile apps and web-based business solutions. The expansion also incorporates several energy and environmental improvements, such as a highly efficient cascade refrigeration system, and energy saving high-output fluorescent and LED lighting. The company also used locally sourced and recycled content furnishings and building materials.

The Fife distribution center is home to more than 270 employees and serves thousands of customers throughout the Seattle market and surrounding area, including independent restaurants, healthcare and hospitality entities, government and educational institutions.

US Foods has operated out of the Fife, Washington facility since 1998.

 US Foods also announced the newest US Foods Scholars scholarship recipients. Seven students from four cities across the U.S. were selected to receive up to $20,000 each to support their continued culinary education, in addition to hands-on training opportunities with US Foods culinary professionals. The US Foods Scholars program was developed to inspire students to reach their full potential and contribute a meaningful solution to the talent shortage facing the restaurant industry.

Launched in 2017, US Foods Scholars provides financial support and professional development opportunities to students who have demonstrated outstanding potential and achievement in the culinary arts and require additional resources to take the next step of their journey. The program is currently active in Arizona, Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Denver, New York City and Raleigh. With the addition of these seven students, US Foods currently supports 13 students across these markets. The company plans to announce 17 additional scholarships in 2019.   

“We are continually impressed by the talent and leadership this group of scholars brings to the table,” said Debra Ceffalio, vice president of corporate communications, US Foods. “In an industry where skilled applicants are increasingly difficult to find, US Foods is proud to support the next generation of culinary professionals and help them reach their career goals.”

The seven recipients are:

  • Angel’o Hill, a culinary arts management student at the Art Institute of Atlanta in Atlanta. Hometown: Greenville, South Carolina 
  • Destinee Chatman, a baking and pastry student at the Art Institute of Atlanta in Atlanta. Hometown: Warner Robins, Georgia
  • Lillie Hood, a baking and pastry arts student at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh. Hometown: Angier, North Carolina 
  • Amber Fuqua, a hospitality management student at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh. Hometown: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Stevani Flahaut, a first-year culinary science student at Austin Community College in Austin. Hometown: Converse, Texas
  • Molly Leibbrandt, a culinary arts and food service management student at Johnson & Wales University in Denver.  Hometown: Centennial, Colorado
  • Liliana Flores, a first-year baking and pastry and foodservice management student at Johnson & Wales University in Denver. Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

All US Foods Scholars are selected through a formal application process. Each applicant is evaluated based on several criteria, including academic performance, financial need and a personal essay. US Foods is proud to partner with two organizations, Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) and the American Culinary Federation (ACF), to help facilitate applications and select scholarship recipients.

Learn more about the program and the seven spring recipients here.  

Ritual Teams with Gregorys Coffee

New York-based coffee roaster and retailer, Gregorys Coffee is partnering with mobile pickup app, Ritual to offer customers a convenient and cost-effective solution to discover, order and pick up coffee and food orders. 

"We often hear from coffee establishments that their customers want the convenience of delivery, but have found that delivery fees and product quality have been a major barrier," said Ray Reddy, Co-Founder and CEO of Ritual. "Our Piggyback feature has been the perfect solution to this problem. We are productizing the coffee run by offering a service with no delivery fees where the product gets to consumers in minutes while staying fresh."

Ritual provides restaurants with turnkey mobile ordering technology, giving customers a convenient solution to discover, order and pick up their coffee and lunch. Over 100,000 teams globally already leverage Ritual’s social group ordering feature, ‘Piggyback,’ which connects workplace teams and allows them to collaborate on coffee and food orders creating a peer-to-peer delivery network. In return, restaurants like Gregorys are able to leverage existing customers to effectively act as delivery persons for these orders, removing delivery costs for customers and the business, all while increasing order size by up to 4x.

Additionally, Ritual’s ‘Auto Place’ feature uses location-based data to automatically place an order once customers are close enough to the restaurant. With traditional delivery, you may receive your coffee or latte twenty minutes after it was made, significantly degrading the quality.  With ‘Auto Place,’ your coffee or meal is made as close to arrival as possible, ensuring the quality of the item is not jeopardized.

“At Gregorys Coffee, we establish and cultivate communities of people who see coffee differently by providing them with unforgettable experiences that are uniquely our own. We are constantly looking for ways to provide convenience to our customers without compromising on quality,” said Greg Zamfotis, CEO of Gregorys Coffee. “Ritual's Piggyback feature has provided a way for our guests to get that same unforgettable experience right at their desk."

To kick off the partnership, customers can enjoy popular coffees from Gregorys Coffee for just $1 every day until April 30th when you use Ritual's Piggyback feature.

Wi5 Closes Seed Round

Wi5, the Telefónica-backed fintech start-up, has closed an £8 million Seed round to further the development of its mobile Order & Pay technology. With one of the largest early-stage investments seen in a UK start-up, the company is expected to radically transform how customers purchase goods and services from brick and mortar vendors. The investment round was led by West Hill Capital.

Wi5’s clients include The O2 arena and AB InBev, and the company is in discussion with a number of global telecoms partners as it seeks to expand internationally.

Prask Sutton, Wi5’s Founder & CEO said: “This investment allows us to provide the very best solutions to address our markets’ demands. I’m thrilled to receive the vote of confidence this financial backing represents. The company is entering yet another exciting stage of its development and the funds raised will accelerate Wi5’s growth and support our ambitious geographic and vertical expansion strategies. We are recruiting best-in-class talent from across the world, strengthening our IP and patent portfolio, whilst continuing to ensure our work has maximum impact by building technology that really matters."

Red Robin Adds Impossible Burger

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews launched its unique interpretation of the Impossible™ Burger at all 570 restaurants in the United States. Red Robin’s Impossible™ Cheeseburger features a delicious, fire-grilled, plant-based Impossible patty, topped with Red Robin’s pickle relish, red onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and choice of cheese. It’s served with a side of Red Robin’s famous Bottomless Steak Fries®.  Guests may alter toppings as desired or customize any Red Robin burger by substituting out an Impossible Burger for a traditional beef burger.

“Our fans expect variety, creativity and culinary innovation at Red Robin, so it was important for us to offer a plant-based option that appeals to traditional burger lovers, flexitarians and everyone craving a delicious burger,” said Jonathan Muhtar, executive vice president and chief concept officer at Red Robin. “The Impossible Cheeseburger is a high-quality offering our guests will love and marks a huge milestone for Red Robin.”

The launch of the Impossible Cheeseburger makes Red Robin the largest single customer of Impossible Foods, the California food-tech startup that makes award-winning meat from plants.

“Red Robin takes meat seriously — and it’s a major endorsement that the Impossible Cheeseburger is now part of Red Robin’s justifiably famous menu,” said Lisa Will, Impossible Foods’ Vice President of Sales. 

Red Robin added the Impossible Cheeseburger to the menu after the restaurant chain’s culinary team tasted Impossible Burger 2.0, the first significant product upgrade since the launch of the original Impossible Burger in 2016. 

                    SOCi Launches Reputation Insights                    

SOCi debuted SOCi Reputation Insights. Comprised of sentiment and competitive monitoring, SOCi Reputation Insights is designed to help multi-location marketers identify and manage emerging sentiment and competitive trends from online reviews and analyze shifts in online reputation over time.

Reviews are now the primary factor for consumers when deciding whether or not to do business with a brand and a top ranking factor in local search results. Over 70% of customers read reviews every time/almost every time they research a purchase decision, and one in two consumers have passed up a business for having less than a four-star rating. As a result, it is now more important than ever for brands to manage their local reputation and proactively build a positive online reputation while knowing where they stand in relation to competitors. 

Created with multi-location brands in mind, SOCi Reputation Insights highlights keywords and specific aspects of the business that are used in a positive, negative, or neutral manner in a given timeframe. These insights can then be further analyzed against local and national competitors, helping marketers quickly identify areas of differentiation. Using Google's Natural Language Processing to analyze word sentiment within the context of a sentence, brands can identify the root cause of consumer dissatisfaction and address issues immediately or, even better, before a bad review is posted.

“We developed SOCi Reputation Insights to help our users run meaningful analysis within the multitudes of reviews they constantly receive across multiple platforms and networks. The platform enables marketers to do more than simply respond; now they can quickly identify, quantify, and extract frequently used keyword trends and themes across online reviews at the national, regional and local level. It was crucial we add this feature to allow marketers to be more proactive in their customer care efforts, and get ahead of the actual issues affecting their online reputation. Ultimately this leads to more efficient resolutions, which helps to reduce or eliminate reviews of that nature continuing to be posted,” said Afif Khoury, CEO, SOCi. 

Cognizant Partners with Jack in the Box

Cognizant  is developing a new digital strategy for Jack in the Box® restaurants, one of the largest hamburger chains in the U.S. The initiative includes a mobile app that enhances the brand’s “on the go” experience by enabling customers to view menus, exclusive promotions, everyday value deals, find the nearest location, place orders in advance, and pay using their mobile phones.  The app is now available for use with all 2,200+ Jack in the Box locations in the U.S.

San Diego-based Jack in the Box partnered with Cognizant digital experts to understand customer requirements, workflows and to create a scalable digital platform. As part of its engagement, Cognizant surveyed customers about their restaurant experiences and preference. Cognizant worked with industry experts to identify operational efficiencies and best practices. The resulting app, the chain’s first, provides one-tap functionality for ordering and payment with details seamlessly flowing to kitchen and customer relationship management tools for improved business insight and decision making. 

“At Jack in the Box, we’re committed to harnessing digital technologies to improve every part of our business from the guest experience to our back-office operations,” said Adrienne Ingoldt, Vice President, Marketing Communications, Jack in the Box. “Cognizant knows the hospitality industry and understands what it takes for a restaurant to be competitive. In addition, the app addresses the evolving needs of our guests while increasing in-store efficiencies — both critical to maintaining positive momentum in the highly competitive food service industry.”

“As a highly recognized brand in the fast-food industry, Jack in the Box understands what on-the-go convenience means for their customers and their business,” said Joe Rajadurai, North American Head, Travel & Hospitality, Cognizant. “Jack in the Box turned to Cognizant to elevate the guest experience and utilize digital technologies to increase efficiencies while also setting the table for future in-store and online offerings. Using customer-centric design, backed by clearly defined business objectives, we are able to help Jack in the Box achieve specific business outcomes and help ensure they are prepared for the future of fast food.”

Flores and  Plate IQ Save Paper and Money

San Diego-based Flores Financial supports more than 300 restaurant clients alone with services including bookkeeping, payroll, budgeting, and customized reporting and consulting. In order to meet compliance and audit requirements, Flores on behalf of its clients would routinely use third-party courier services to collect hardcopy invoices and other financial records from unit locations, which would then be stored on-site at their office. In addition to the manual and time-consuming nature of this process, such file-storage practices also required costly physical office space.

“Our previous process was to collect, alphabetize and then store hardcopy records for all 300 of our clients,” said Andrew Murphy, Business Development Officer for Flores Financial. “We had row after row of filing cabinets for our restaurant clients alone, and because many of our clients maintain above-standard compliance, in some cases we kept records dating back three to five years. As our business grew so did our need for physical space, and lease space dedicated to storage became a significant factor on our balance sheet.”

Plate IQ, a San Francisco-based technology company that helps restaurants improve and automate their Accounts Payable (AP) processes, helped Flores move to a fully automated, cloud-based AP solution. Using Plate IQ, Flores is able to digitally capture, transmit and archive many of the records that were previously kept only in hardcopy, saving Flores time and expense while improving the firm’s ability to deliver value to its clients. 

As a result of its deployment, Flores Financial was able to reduce its use of paper by nearly 5,000 pounds annually, increase physical office space for employees, and cut its use of expensive third-party courier services. Perhaps most significantly, Plate IQ has reduced Flores’ need for entry-level FTE support, improving margins for the 90-person firm.

“With Plate IQ, our clients are able to capture and automatically submit to us their own invoices. Within 24 hours, we have all the data captured, scrubbed, and exported into Sage and C2it, essentially giving our clients live P&Ls weekly and improving their ability to make actionable decisions,” said Murphy. “Plate IQ was a leapfrog-style move for us that’s driving competitive advantage, and the cost of the solution is immaterial compared to the savings we have achieved.”