Ritual Expands to Chicago, Bringing Delight to Office Eating Monotony

January 22, 2016

12:45 pm

Imagine for a moment that you run a small, but thriving startup in Chicago. One of the hundreds of tasks you have each day is to ensure your team is squeezing every minute, no, every second, of time into prioritized and productive work. However, one morning you get to your office and realize half your staff is on an expedition to the local coffee shop rather than diligently working at their desk with a mug nestled between their magic mouse and assortment of desktop wires. But then tragedy strikes, the office coffee machine is on the fritz again.

Precious time that could be spent on building out your product, gaining new clients, and bringing the team closer is now wasted each morning and at some random hour in the afternoon on expeditions to a coffee shop. So now you can fork out the dough on replacing the coffee machine, deal with the break in productivity, or you can simply use Ritual.

Ritual is an ordering platform that allows corporate employees to place orders on their mobile devices, be updated when it’s ready, and pick it up without waiting in line. Employees pay no convenience fees for the service, and prices are exactly the same as the restaurant’s menu price. More than just making it easy for your team to order coffee, employers can also provide their staff lunch credits – or for when it comes down to crunch time, even late night dinner arrangements without the expected stacks of pizza. For the restaurant, Ritual adds another source of revenue and helps them better manage their food output.

“We are a marketplace. On one side we work with companies and employees to help pay for food and coffee. Similar to Starbucks mobile order and pay. Enable that exp for a lot of corporate employees. For the restaurant and coffee shop side of things it’s less about tech, but about growing their top of the line net sales,” said Josh Sookman, Ritual Head of Expansion.

Launched in January of 2015 in Toronto, Ritual started small, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, and even block by block. During work hours, you only want to travel so far to grab lunch, and although there are several delivery options, they have additional costs. Ritual services the middle ground, allowing your team to order through an app and simply pick up the food or coffee. As a manager, this means increased productivity. If desired, it can even mean a new company benefit. Some organizations offer a monthly coffee allowance, while others cater lunch a couple of times each week. Ritual’s platform allows the team to order from a variety of local places, all while automatically capturing receipts to make it easy on the accounting team for expenses.

And then there is the ever-growing concern for food allergies and dietary restrictions. “Now every place around becomes a potential option,” said Sookman. Menus are easily accessible, and you can order from two nearby locations without much of a hassle or additional waiting. “You set an amount, use it by X time, and if unused you retract the credit. The point is that the team goes to lunch together (in their office, board room, etc.).” Unlike UberEATS, the food is also made to order, not mass produced and often a bit cold by time you receive it:

“With Ritual, orders are made fresh, not prepped in advance or made through mass production. For restaurants, their entire reputation is their food,” said Sookman, “so being able to control the product is critical. If the customer only gets premade or delivered foods that don’t transport well, they could develop a bad opinion on what the restaurant would typically produce. In the short term, delivery may help sales, but how many customers will really re-order?”

On the tech side of the platform, Ritual knows where you are and when to place an order. Say you want your usual cup of coffee ready to go and able to skip the morning rush. By placing an order on the app, Ritual will know when to place the order based on your geographic location. On the flip side, if you are working in your office and order lunch, the app will tell you when to leave and pick up your food, maximizing your productivity and reducing wait times. For restaurants this allows them to also throttle their business. During peak foot traffic times, they can add longer expected wait times and set better expectations. According to Sookman restaurants saw a top line lift of 20-25 percent in Toronto after using their platform.

Ritual App

Expanding to the States: Chicago

When asked why the team decided to launch in Chicago over any other city in the US, they discussed how similar it is to Toronto.

“They have a fantastic tech community, with vibrant ecosystems. The people in Chicago are open to the app ecosystem, with a lot of foodies and a lot of great food available. There are big professional communities, tech, VC communities… where you see a lot of people where time really matters,” said Sookman. “We drive value in saving money, we drive money in saving time.”

For many startups, rapid expansions are the norm. Ritual has decided to go against the grain with a slow and steady approach, focusing on hyperlocal markets. “We have a philosophy to go really slow to go really fast. This was purposely done with Toronto,” said Sookman.

Before picking up speed, the team goes through as many data points as possible, embraces what appears to be working, and adjusts what may be broken. Last June they only had 50 participating sponsors in Toronto, and now they’ve got more than 400.

“In Chicago we have 275 partners already. Ultimately we are going from one US city, and the next expansion may be two. We spend a lot of time working with vendors,” said Sookman.

Since launching in Chicago the team has reportedly seen thousands of orders in the first few weeks alone. They plan to expand their coverage area in Chicago over the next year.

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@) or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.