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Tech roundup: Why restaurants should pay attention to TikTok

The app’s sphere of influence has reached the White House. Also, the feds will take a close look at crypto, three restaurant tech startups land seed funding and more.
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Photo illustration by Nico Heins

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The White House last week held an unusual briefing on the war in Ukraine. Its audience for the update, according to the Washington Post, was not diplomats or security officials, but influential users of the social media app TikTok.

The app has apparently become such a major source of information during the conflict that the White House is using it as a way to steer its message. It’s the latest and probably the most striking sign of the app’s growing influence, particularly among young people.

I wrote about how restaurants are using TikTok in October 2020, noting that it was still young and relatively small compared to Facebook. (It had about 131 million active U.S. users in January compared to about 180 million for Facebook, according to DataReportal.) At the time, restaurants had yet to really take to it, outside of some early adopters like Chipotle and Dunkin’.

A day after that article published, McDonald’s made its first TikTok post, and now has 2 million followers. Other large chains, including Domino’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Panera Bread and Wingstop, have joined the platform since.

Clearly, these brands see the same thing in TikTok that the White House does: The app can influence people, whether they’re forming opinions on a global conflict or just deciding where to eat.

There is research to back this up. A study released in September by marketing agency MGH found that 36% of TikTok users have ordered from a restaurant after seeing a video about it on the app, including 65% of creators, or users that publish content on the platform.

Notably, the study found, it wasn’t the brands’ accounts that were swaying users, but other TikTokers. Respondents said their restaurant habits were most heavily influenced by users they knew personally.

Speaking of Joe Biden, the president made more tech news of interest to restaurants last week by issuing an executive order related to cryptocurrency. The order calls for the government to take a look at the risks and benefits of the decentralized digital money that has boomed in popularity in recent years. The directive could lead to more regulation of the currency. 

Restaurants continue to dabble in crypto, experimenting with accepting it at the register, as a franchisee fee or as a reward for customers. Still, the vast majority of restaurants don’t accept cryptocurrency, and very few plan to start anytime soon, according to Technomic.

Marqii raised $4.1 million for software that helps restaurants manage their online presence. The company’s technology allows operators to do things like update digital menus, track and respond to reviews and increase search visibility from a single dashboard. It said it would use the funding to develop new products, with a particular focus on digital-first concepts like virtual brands and ghost kitchens. The seed round was led by Acronym Venture Capital. 

Virtual brand company Popchew raised $3.5 million. Popchew helps “creators” develop delivery-only brands and launch them across a network of independent restaurants. It has created two such brands so far—Bitcoin Pizza and Wing SZN—with crypto investor Anthony Pompliano and YouTuber Zias, respectively. The brands have processed tens of thousands of orders, the company said. Popchew plans to use the funding to help launch one new brand every month. The seed round was led by Long Journey Ventures.

Contactless payment company Paerpay raised $3 million. Paerpay began as a dining payment app that allowed customers to split the tab, but shifted to a QR code-based contactless model during the pandemic. Interestingly, the company is testing its technology with a large fast-food chain that is using its product in the drive-thru. Guests order and then scan a QR code with their phone to pay. It plans to use the funding to add staff and support its growth. The seed round was led by MassMutual and brings Paerpay’s total funding to $4.2 million.

Uber Eats added new group ordering features. The delivery provider is relaunching the ability for customers to order food together with three new tools designed to make the process easier. Users can now split the bill and create a deadline for everyone to order, with automatic reminders for slowpokes to put their order in. The new functionality is expected to come in handy for workers returning to the office as pandemic restrictions ease.

ChowNow hired a CMO. Karene Tropen comes to the online ordering company from online publishing platform Medium, where she was SVP of marketing and content. She has also had senior marketing jobs at Disney+, Netflix, HBO and NBC Universal. She joins ChowNow as it adds more consumer-facing products in addition to technology for restaurants.

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