Technology

Company linked to Travis Kalanick brings bulk restaurant delivery to LA

Picnic delivers food from more than 100 restaurants to select offices and apartment buildings with no fee or tip.
Picnic pickup shelf
Meals are delivered together to designated pickup shelves. | Photo courtesy of Picnic

A restaurant delivery business linked to CloudKitchens CEO Travis Kalanick has set up shop in Los Angeles, promising batched deliveries from multiple restaurants with no fees or tips. 

LA-based Picnic refers to itself as a “digital food court” for office workers and apartment dwellers. According to its website, customers can use Picnic to order from more than 100 restaurants, including well-known brands such as Sweetgreen, Five Guys and Mendocino Farms. The catch: They have to live or work in a building that is part of Picnic's network. Meals are delivered in bulk to designated pickup shelves at a previously arranged time. 

“It’s just like using a food delivery app, but we bring everyone’s order together at the same time,” Picnic’s website says.

The site goes on to explain that grouping orders allows Picnic not to charge fees or tips while still paying couriers fairly. Customers pay the regular restaurant menu price.

Office and building managers are invited to contact Picnic to see if their building is eligible to become a drop-off site at no cost. They could then offer the service as an amenity to tenants.

Picnic’s origins, and further details of its operations, are murky. But it appears to be an offshoot of City Storage Systems, the real estate company headed by Kalanick that owns the CloudKitchens ghost kitchen business along with Otter, a restaurant software provider.

Fine print on Picnic’s website says that Picnic is an affiliate of Otter. And Picnic’s address is listed as 777 S. Figueroa St., Suite 4100, the same as City Storage Systems.

Additionally, a digital food court with the Picnic name and branding now occupies a CloudKitchens outlet in Chicago that was formerly known as Avondale Food Pickup. 

The link between Picnic and Kalanick was first reported by food tech publication The SpoonPicnic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company’s website does not say how Picnic is able to deliver food from 100-plus restaurants all at once, nor is it clear if deliveries are handled by a third party or Picnic employees. But it is quite likely at least some of the meals are being produced in a CloudKitchens facility. The company’s ghost kitchens house multiple restaurants that are available for delivery and pickup only via online ordering. 

Picnic’s business model aligns with City Storage Systems’ stated goal to make food delivery “more affordable, higher quality and convenient for everyone.” The wide selection and low prices could help drive business to CloudKitchens and Otter. And if Picnic is using its own couriers, it could also funnel orders away from third-party delivery apps like DoorDash and Uber Eats.

Picnic is not the first company to offer group deliveries to high-density locations. Catering giant ezCater offers a similar program for employers, called Relish. Sweetgreen has done the same with its Outpost pickup shelves. And it was also pursued by Zuul, the ghost kitchen software company that was acquired by the now-defunct Kitchen United. 

Delivery companies have long been enamored with the idea of batching orders because the higher value helps offset the considerable costs of food delivery. But for batching to work, the various restaurants and customers involved all need to be located close together. Picnic appears to be attempting to solve those problems by connecting multi-brand ghost kitchens with clusters of customers.

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