Grilled Cheese Innovation

Will The Melt be the next Chipotle?

However the queue seems a little unusual—on two counts. First, office workers seem to be falling over themselves to pay top-dollar for something they could almost as easily make themselves—melted cheese on toast. Second, The Melt restaurant has installed a high-tech ordering system that means there should, in fact, never be a need to stand in line—you can just scan a code displayed on your smartphone’s screen and your order is on its way. […]

After all, the previous business [Jonathan Kaplan] started—the Flip video camera—was successful, despite there being no perceived need for another camcorder at the time. But millions of people soon “got” the simple one-button recording of the Flip and he thinks they are likely to adapt to online meal purchasing in the same short order.

It’s not about whether or not you like one chain’s burritos, it’s about the fact that the food service industry does in fact exhibit innovation, substitution of labor for capital on some margins, etc. Chain restaurants are coded as low status, but that’s because figuring out how to make good food at scale is difficult. Over time we’ve moved up the quality curve. Improvements in this field are much more likely to improve our lives than the much-wished-for revival of cooking. The FT notes that San Francisco office workers “could” make grilled cheese for themselves “almost” as easily. But time is scarce. Saving even small amounts of time is worthwhile to people. I really enjoy cooking, but one reason I enjoy it is precisely that I’m not preparing multiple meals per day day-in and day-out.