The future of restaurants is no restaurant (or why we invested $275,000 in BENTO)

Here in San Francisco the future has arrived and it’s really awesome. You can get whatever you want almost instantly at a very reasonable cost. It’s called the on-demand economy, and it’s been driven by the phenomenal success of Uber (in which I was lucky enough to be one of the first angel investors).

The “Uber of…” is a common theme today and I think perhaps the next biggest entry into the space will be food and I’ve placed a bet on one of them: BENTO.

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): http://ctt.ec/94a9A ]

Here’s how it works:

  1. You open an App and you pick your main course and four sides.
  2. In under 15 minutes someone is outside your house with a thin, rectangular box — the slickest packaging you’ve ever seen for delivery food.
  3. You meet the driver outside and get your food.

You just paid $12 per person for a generous dinner that took under two minutes to order, 15 minutes to get to your house, and you will probably have some leftovers for tomorrow.

How is this possible, you ask? Well, it’s not rocket science:

  1. A central kitchen makes “pods” of food and packs them into hot and cold bags.
  2. Those hot and cold bags plug into the cigarette lighter in the car so the food stays warm or cold.
  3. The driver assembles your BENTO box outside your house.
  4. Because you come and get your food at the curb there only needs to be one person in the car, they don’t have to park or risk a ticket. So, a quick walk to the curb combined with an iPhone App makes this business model actually work! If you had two drivers or had to park I’m guessing the price would be 30–50% more. In other words, you would have to pay $10 extra to have it brought to your door.
  5. There are a lot of types of Asian food that travel well and are delicious (soba, veggies, curry, etc.) and BENTO focuses on those.
  6. They obviously stay away from things that don’t travel well (tempura, fried dumplings — which get soggy).
  7. They don’t have the overhead of a storefront.

Your choices are massively limited when compared to the average Chinese or Japanese menu, which are amongst the most complex and largest of any cuisine type, but you get your food in minutes.

If given the choice of ordering and getting my food in under 20 minutes with a handful of choices, or waiting 60–90 minutes and having hundreds of choices, well, I’m going with the BENTO model 8 out of 10 times.

We’ve been testing the model out in a small area of San Francisco and growth, word of mouth, feedback, and performance have been off the charts.

I’m really, really excited about this investment and as part of that I’m going to give away 10 BENTO boxes every night from now until the end of April. Simply tweet: “Hey @jason, buy me a @mybentonow http://www.bentonow.com!” between 5–7PM Monday through Thursday. The team at Bento will reply to 10 of those folks every night with a code for a free BENTO.

All I ask is that if you enjoy the product, tweet a photo/mini-review … and if you have any problems you send them to me personally at jason AT inside.com so I can help improve the product discreetly. :-)

Best @jason

PS — There have been some concerns about the 1.0 packaging, which seems a little complex and perhaps not sustainable. First, it’s 100% recyclable — so no worries there. Second, the team is working on a 2.0 version that will be even slicker and more sustainable.