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Let’s All Go To The Lobby: Improving Food Delivery With A New Kind Of Tenant Wellness Amenity

The Pickup Pod at work

Working from home for two years has led many workers to grow accustomed to a certain level of comfort and convenience. Now, as those employees return to the office, they will be forced to give up some of those comforts — such as the ability to wear pajamas at their desks — but not all of them.

The convenience of ordering food and avoiding restaurant lines that many people came to expect during the pandemic doesn't have to go away once they trade a couch in the living room for a cubicle on the 20th floor.

McKinsey & Co. reported that the market for food delivery in the United States more than doubled during the pandemic. The consulting firm added that the trend isn’t likely to change, either, and food delivery, seen as a lifesaver for many restaurants, is “poised to remain a permanent fixture in the dining landscape.”

This presents both opportunities and challenges for building managers, delivery services and their customers, said Steven Sperry, a technology entrepreneur and the CEO of Minnow Technologies, a proptech startup he co-founded in 2017. 

Sperry said some office or residential buildings are already receiving 40 to 50 food deliveries a day. Those numbers are likely to increase in 2022, particularly on the office side. 

“A study showed that employees will be more likely to use food delivery apps when they return to the office than they were before the pandemic,” he said. “So now you're going to have office building managers handling this influx of incoming food deliveries.” 

To Sperry, this is reminiscent of a trend that preceded the pandemic: package delivery.

“As e-commerce became more widely adopted, the volume of packages coming into residential buildings began to increase quite dramatically,” he said. “All of a sudden, property managers found that they had a problem on their hands managing all of these packages. In effect, their lobbies were turning into warehouses.”

Building managers solved this problem by installing lockers to keep packages neat and organized. But a solution that works for a pair of shoes won’t work for a sushi lunch. The shoes will be fine if they aren't picked up for a few hours or days; the tuna sashimi, not so much.

“Building owners are experiencing many of the same problems that they experienced in the early days of package delivery as the food piles up in the lobby,” Sperry said. “However, there are unique issues around food delivery that you don't have with package delivery, namely, the food has a shelf life after which it's not safe to consume, and it has odors and temperature issues, too. This creates a problem for property managers.” 

He said that Minnow’s solution is a "tech-forward wellness amenity" designed to provide an easier, better way for them to manage these food deliveries. It can accept deliveries from any local restaurant or food delivery service.

Minnow’s Pickup Pod is a containerized system created specifically to deal with short-term food storage. Unlike a conventional locker system, the Pickup Pod — a Smart Kitchen Summit award winner — has features that make it suitable for storing hot or cold food and beverages.

Requiring less than 4 SF of floor space, the Pickup Pod contains eight insulated, illuminated cubbies with antimicrobial surfaces. Minnow said it is designed to handle up to 32 deliveries per hour, supporting up to 500 users. One side benefit, Sperry said, is that it reduces security concerns because delivery people are no longer roaming the lobby or building floors looking for the customer.

“The Pickup Pod is an IoT device that constantly sends a heartbeat to Minnow’s cloud-based servers,” Sperry said. “We are alerted when food has been put into the Pod, and at that point, we notify the resident or tenant. If they don't come down within an hour or so, we can send them a reminder notification. We can also send them a final notification saying, ‘Hey, the pickup window is about to close. You've got 15 minutes to come down and pick up your food.’”

This avoids the problems of food sitting on a table in the lobby until a small mountain of bags and containers builds up and some of it starts to spoil.

“It is very rare that people don't pick up food they paid for, but if they don’t, we just send a notification to the property managers to discard the food,” Sperry said. “There's a simple user interface that allows them to tap a button, open the cubby, take the food out and get rid of it.”

Sperry said Minnow recently surpassed 50,000 food deliveries with Pickup Pods installed in buildings across the country. As a next step, he envisions the units being able to handle scheduled group deliveries, where multiple food orders arrive at a building in a single consolidated order, similar to a UPS delivery. That, he predicted, will decrease the driver's carbon footprint and fuel expenses.

“As soon as you start to lower the cost of food delivery, you make it more accessible to more people and you also give them more options,” he said. 

For now, Sperry describes the Pickup Pod as a wellness amenity that will help ease people back into the routine of working in office buildings. 

“It's all part of having healthy buildings and making sure that people feel comfortable to be back in the spaces and making sure that they feel that their food is being delivered and handled in a safe manner,” he said. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Minnow Technologies. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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