From Food on a Platter to Food on the Platform: Datafication of the Restaurant Industry
A few months ago, I found myself at the counter of La Mallorca, a diner that one TripAdvisor review calls “the last cafetería” in San Juan, Puerto Rico.1 I ordered a coffee and a quesito, a cheese pastry. The server did not input my order into a computer; he just nodded, poured my coffee from an unmarked metal pot, asked the woman at the front counter to toast a quesito from the display window, and handed me the newspaper. A few refills and about an hour later, the server asked me to remind him of my order, which he then wrote down before handing me my paper bill. The person who checked out before me paid with cash, and the transaction was completed using an old- school cash register. I proceeded to use ApplePay (enabled through a chip attached to the cashier’s smartphone) to cash out with the woman who hadtoasted my breakfast. As I walked out, I felt grateful both for the meal and for a dining experience where the restaurant had not visibly integrated a single smart technology into its core restaurant functions. Well, almost.
What made this dining experience so rare? Platform companies2 such as DoorDash, Resy, and OpenTable have revolutionized what it means to dine at, work at, and own a restaurant without even competing with restauranteurs for ownership.3 They have “datafied” the restaurant industry by making data collection and data sharing core features of restaurant functions such as takeout and delivery.
This transformation is consistent with the way that platforms tend to engage with industries. Platform companies do not just enter or expand markets; they replace and rematerialize them.4 They reshape industries as data becomes increasingly central to the global economy. Platform companies grease the wheels of “informational capitalism,” a regime in which “market actors use knowledge, culture, and networked information technologies as a means of extracting and appropriate surplus value, including consumer surplus.”5 Capitalism centers on a party’s efforts to maximize its profits. Informationalism centers on the accumulation of knowledge to increase information processing power.6 In tandem, informational capitalism aligns capitalism as a mode of production with informationalism as a mode of development.7 Stated differently, informational capitalism locks data collection and sharing into a mode of production and a mode of development that empowers platform companies to use these practices to transform industries.8 In turn, when platform companies establish a foothold in a new industry, they provide an entry point for the structures and values of informational capitalism to enter that industry.
J.D., Georgetown University Law Center and Sciences Po 2023.