What is the metaverse and how do restaurants fit into it?
That’s a question the industry is likely to be pondering more and more over the coming months and years. Some experts predict that the augmented reality of the metaverse could eventually become a multibillion-dollar business with the potential to disrupt and even dominate the retail industry.
Put simply, the metaverse is a version of the internet wherein users can interact using digital avatars in an online space with real-world incentives and rewards.
An over-simplified that works relatively well is to say that it is seen by many in foodservice as the next step in loyalty programs, which have become a more prominent part of the restaurant business in recent years. Capturing consumers, forging a loyalty to your brand, and keeping those customers feeling engaged and rewarded has become a key to a successful restaurant business.
Quick-service chains are making early moves to establish a presence in the metaverse and in recent months, numerous fast-food chains have taken a virtual step forward.
Chipotle launched a virtual restaurant in the metaverse using the platform Roblox, for Halloween in 2021. Players could dress their avatars in Chipotle-themed costumes like a burrito mummy, chip bag ghost, and “Guacenstein.”
Chipotle’s metaverse was interactive, including hidden items for customers to find in its “Boorito Maze”. Thousands of users also received codes for free burritos in Chipotle’s virtual locations, which could be redeemed in physical restaurants.
Business Insider reports that users can play the Burrito Builder game by making customer orders within a limited amount of time. Successfully rolling burritos leads to in-game Burrito Bucks, and the first 100,000 players will get codes for free real-life burritos. Players at the top of the leaderboard at the end of each day can win free burritos for a year. Customers can also play other games for more rewards, while Burrito Bucks can also be used for speed boosts during the games and additional uniforms.
Chipotle launched another Roblox location in April, allowing playing customers to virtually visit the first Chipotle, opened in 1993, as well as try their hand at working behind the counter. When they began inviting people to join their restaurant in the metaverse and collect credits for their next Chipotle order by receiving special codes, more than 20,000 people were waiting to get in.
Meanwhile, Wendy’s debuted its Wendyverse in April. The Wendyverse Town Square features a restaurant, plus other decor like a giant Wendy statue. Anyone with a Meta Quest 2 can make an avatar and visit the restaurant, while anyone who doesn’t have the Meta Quest 2 can still see the virtual world at Wendyverse.com. The world is open for exploring, or players can follow the “To Do List.”
The restaurant interior should look familiar to any Wendy’s customer, with its traditional counter service, fries, and Frostys. Users can get their virtual food and sit at tables. They can also head behind the counter if they want to experience Wendy’s from the other side. To play games and win prizes, users can head over to the Buck Biscuitdome in Partnership Plaza. There, players can compete against each other on the basketball court. Instead of a basketball, users can play with a Baconator. Players can win a $1 sausage or bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit at a real-life Wendy’s.
Wendy’s CMO Carl Loredo called the Wendyverse “truly a first of its kind,” per Business Insider, while Meta VP of Metaverse Vishal Shah added that while the full vision of metaverse may be years away, “brands should start experimenting on what their metaverse presence will be now”.
Wendy’s will track engagement metrics, such as how many people visit the virtual restaurant or post about it on social media and how many people interact with its app to order food as a measure of success, added Loredo.
McDonald’s also ventured into the metaverse with a virtual Lunar New Year celebration through virtual reality platforms AltspaceVR and Spatial. Visitors could hear their horoscope readings during the visit.
McDonald’s also filed several trademark applications that suggest it plans to open a virtual restaurant in the metaverse, possibly similar to Wendy’s and Chipotle’s versions. McDonald’s filed trademarks for a “virtual restaurant featuring actual and virtual goods” and “operating a virtual restaurant featuring home delivery.”
An assortment of others
Panera filed to trademark “Paneraverse” back in February, signalling that it may hold a similar intent to McDonald’s.
By the end of March, Yum! Brands’ KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell had all made their own trademark applications for their presence in the metaverse, reports Mashed. Burger King, Wingstop, and Hooters are among the other brands thought to have taken the same step.
And it’s not just restaurant chains that have eyes on the metaverse.
In May, at the RC Show, Restaurants Canada will launch the 365 Marketplace, the first metaverse marketplace for Canada’s foodservice industry and a result of a partnership with Nextech AR Solutions.
The 365 Marketplace will be the global destination for food and restaurant professionals looking to connect virtually and will be a hybrid of a virtual event space and an international marketplace.
Watch this space
Just how this move into the metaverse will pan out in foodservice remains to be seen. At first, the shift towards augmented reality offerings will be little more than testing the water.
Mike Proulx, vice president and research director at research firm Forrester Research, told the Wall Street Journal that the company’s data suggests 43 of U.S. adults say they would actively avoid a brand-sponsored experience in an immersive digital platform. But Proulx says there is still value for restaurants in finding out for themselves how their consumer base is behaving in and reacting to these metaverse spaces.
Foodservice has already taken giant technological leaps forward in the last few years, from the surging rise in prominence of ghost kitchens to automation in the kitchen and dining rooms. With big chains and leading organizations now making decisive early moves into the metaverse, perhaps this is the next step into the future.