Meals in the Metaverse Could be a New Frontier for Foodservice Businesses: Charlebois

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Some restaurants these days are looking for new ways to reengage with a market heavily affected by a two-year old pandemic. Restaurants have done a lot of juggling over the last two years: Redefining menus, thinking of new ways of connecting with customers, in other words, pivoting to a positive future. It’s been nothing short of impressive. One approach which is gaining some traction recently is to look at a new market, the metaverse. Yes, lots of hype about the metaverse, also known as augmented reality, and it is also providing new opportunities for the food service industry.

The metaverse is also another reason so many are talking about cryptocurrencies these days. Many see the two rely heavily on each other as they develop. For example, Crypto Baristas aims to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds for coffee lovers. Not only does it bring coffee fans together in the metaverse, but the project is funding an actual coffee shop in New York City called Coffee Bros., which partners with coffee farmers from around the world. It’s all done with cryptocurrencies.

Few knew how the technology would escalate and scale in a way that it would change how we communicate. Not to mention, how the internet changed how we live. The metaverse is a virtual world that continues to exist and evolve even if you’re not around by way of some virtual reality devise. You can get in and out while the world carries on, with or without you. You can create, buy, and sell goods and yes, order and virtually eat food in a digital economy. You obviously can’t physically eat food in the metaverse, nevertheless, there are numerous other things you can do that you can’t do in the real world.

In the more idealistic concepts of the metaverse, it’s interoperable, allowing anyone to take virtual items like clothes or cars from one platform to another. You can make money, get credits to purchase things in the real world. Very fascinating.

Chipotle recently teamed up with Roblox to have users create meals that earn credits for real food. When they began inviting people to join their restaurant in the metaverse and collect credits for their next Chipotle order by receiving special codes, over 20,000 people were waiting to get in. McDonald’s announced recently that it intends to open new restaurants in the metaverse. Wendy’s and Hooters have also made announcements in the last few days. In Canada, Restaurants Canada launched a metaverse marketplace for its industry, a trend hunter partnership to revive the foodservice Industry. It will be launched in May. We are expecting other chains to follow suit over the next several months.

It is still unclear though how the metaverse will change our lives, or how restaurants can make money selling food virtually. It may be that it will come and go, like many other things in life.

However, the potential crossover between the real food world and a virtual one in the metaverse can help companies to look at the market differently. Think about how employees can be trained or allow chains to try new menu items. Experiences can be changed in a way they can’t right now. For example, the metaverse could offer consumers a chance to eat breakfast in Istanbul, lunch in Paris and dinner in Rio, on the same day. Or, on a more personal level, you could go to a family restaurant and be served by your own ancestors and experience the food they ate many years ago. Most of the industry R&D can occur in the metaverse. It may not be real food, but you are in fact dealing with avatars representing real people who will tell companies what they like and dislike. The metaverse can be limitless, but of course, how consumers would react to experiences can bring its load of unpredictability.

The metaverse is also another reason so many are talking about cryptocurrencies these days. Many see the two rely heavily on each other as they develop. For example, Crypto Baristas aims to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds for coffee lovers. Not only does it bring coffee fans together in the metaverse, but the project is funding an actual coffee shop in New York City called Coffee Bros., which partners with coffee farmers from around the world. It’s all done with cryptocurrencies.

Most Canadians may not buy into this metaverse concept at all. Food is food, and you either order it from a restaurant or you cook your own. In other words, sticking to the basics.  Let’s face it, wearing VR headsets can be a pain, making us look silly. Some may even experience motion sickness while wearing them. Nothing pleasant about that.

The online world is different than before the pandemic, especially in the food industry. There’s more business, more traffic, so converting some of that traffic into a virtual world is not as hard as two years ago. Joining the metaverse for a restaurant is not that expensive and the possibilities are interesting. If this helps our food service get back on its feet, all the power to them.

Article Author

Sylvain Charlebois
Sylvain Charlebois
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.

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