Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative food, media, and retail companies.
Over the past couple of years, the restaurant industry was forced to innovate at warp speed to maintain customers amid a global pandemic that stopped indoor dining in its tracks. Many of these innovations are now maturing—and companies are continuing to add even more new features. One such company is Bluedot, a location technology startup that helps restaurants, including chains like McDonald’s and KFC, offer curbside pickup and reduce wait times for customers. This year, it actually made the wait for food fun by incorporating games similar to Pokémon Go that leverage AR technology to bring customers’ surroundings alive. Brightloom, founded by Adam Brotman, former Starbucks EVP of global retail operations, is also helping restaurants woo diners by analyzing their customers’ behavior and developing insights into what they want. Texas chain Wingstop doubled down on its delivery strategy, inking an exclusive deal with DoorDash and opening ghost kitchens to fulfill orders. And delivery platform ChowNow launched the Order Better Network, which makes restaurant menus available across social platforms like Snapchat, helping eateries reach even more customers.
At the same time, there are organizations working to alleviate the pressures put on restaurant workers by these new technologies. Los Deliveristas Unidos was started by delivery workers in New York City who are seeking better protections—and basic rights such as bathroom breaks—while contracting for delivery companies. California-based startup Everytable, meanwhile, is also committed to social change. It makes healthy food more accessible by charging different prices for its offerings depending on the median income of the neighborhoods where its restaurant outposts are based. Read on for the full list of this year’s best dining innovators.
For making food pickups fun (and more efficient)
San-Francisco-based Bluedot is a location technology company that helps quick-service restaurants offer drive-through and curbside pickup seamlessly. After seeing 353% growth in monthly active users since January 2020—due in large part to the pandemic—the 5-year-old company rolled out an enhanced suite of services called Tempo, which lets restaurants track the location of a customer, accurately predict their arrival time, and alert staff so that they can start preparing food at the right time ahead of pickup. Tempo also allows guests to check in when they arrive and to digitally signal to staff that they are ready to pick up their order. The predictive technology can help fast-food chains decide whether to incorporate AR experiences—similar to Pokémon Go—to entertain customers while they wait. The company’s brand customers include Dunkin’, McDonald’s, and KFC, as well as Craveable Brands, Six Flags, OTR, and Red Rooster.
Bluedot is No. 37 on Fast Company‘s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2022.
2. Los Deliveristas Unidos
For organizing food delivery workers
During the pandemic, orders from delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats soared, and the working conditions of app-based couriers grew more difficult. As gig workers for various outlets, they were not eligible to join a traditional union to advocate for basic rights such as a guaranteed minimum wage and the ability to use the bathroom during work hours. Los Deliveristas Unidos, a network of more than 200 New York City-based couriers, began coalescing over social media in late 2020 and organized more formally in April 2021 with the support of Brooklyn-based Worker’s Justice Project and the city’s largest service worker union, SEIU 32BJ. Since then, Los Deliveristas has helped win fast-track priority for COVID-19 vaccinations for app delivery workers and pressured DoorDash to commit to helping its delivery people access bathrooms while on the job. In September, following a bike protest that drew thousands in Times Square and further campaigning from Los Deliveristas, the New York City Council passed six bills, including ones that ensure workers have access to restrooms and are able to collect the full tip amount they are owed. The group also teamed with the Worker Institute at Cornell to release a groundbreaking study that laid bare the dangerous working conditions and payment structures that some of the 500 New York City app-based couriers are laboring under. Per the study, 42% of workers reported experiencing nonpayment or underpayment, and 49% reported having been in an accident or crash while doing a delivery (75% of them then paid for medical care with their personal funds).
For helping restaurants reach their customers and keep them coming back
Founded in 2019 by Adam Brotman, the former EVP of global retail operations at Starbucks who built the coffee chain’s widely adopted loyalty program, Seattle-based Brightloom helps restaurants track their customer data and determine what it means. The company, which is focused on small to midsize eateries, organizes and analyzes restaurants’ customer data to help businesses answer questions about how many customers they have, who those customers are, what they’re buying, and how often they are coming back. Brightloom also helps restaurants create personalized campaigns based on that data. According to the company, clients typically see a 6% increase in revenue in the first few months of such campaigns. In addition to smaller restaurant groups, Brightloom has signed on El Pollo Loco, Jamba, and Ruby Tuesday.
For adapting to the new way customers order food
With more than 1,700 locations worldwide, Texas-based fast-food chain Wingstop continues to find new ways to address some of the biggest challenges facing the restaurant industry. Throughout the pandemic, the chain doubled down on its digital strategy, driving customers to digital channels including its own and delivery partner DoorDash. Today, some 65% of the company’s revenue comes through digital. Wingstop has also taken advantage of ghost kitchens to expand into new markets and grow its presence in ones where it has a small footprint, starting in the U.K. in 2020. Manhattan is next: The company plans to open 20 locations there in the next three years, many of them ghost kitchens. In response to the nationwide shortage of chicken and rising competition in the wings space, over the summer the company also unveiled a fully virtual brand called Thighstop. The brand’s chicken products—which include the same sauces as Wingstop’s wings—are easily produced in its existing restaurants and take advantage of previously unused parts of the chicken. The company’s 2021 revenue totaled $282.5 million, up 13.5% from a year earlier. Wingstop’s fourth quarter digital sales comprised 61.3% of sales.
For helping restaurants keep more money on deliveries
Food-ordering platform ChowNow, which competes with DoorDash and Uber Eats, is working on an alternative delivery system that offers better terms for its 20,000 restaurant partners. In 2021, the 10-year-old outfit launched the Order Better Network, which makes restaurant menus available across several marketplaces and social networks including Snapchat, Rakuten, Marriott Bonvoy, and United Mileage Plus, with order buttons fully integrated. The network makes it easy for customers to place orders and helps restaurants reach more customers through different channels without spending exorbitant amounts of money. The company also helps restaurants protect the profits they make on orders by working with the likes of Snapchat to stop them from charging extra fees or taking a cut of earnings. ChowNow takes a 12% commission on every order, which is substantially lower than the 30% charged on most meal delivery platforms, ensuring that most of the profit goes to the restaurant.
For helping restaurants get food to customers as fast as possible
New York City-based Olo creates digital ordering and delivery services for more than 500 restaurant brands and 79,000 locations. Diners can place orders from restaurants that use Olo via a wide range of platforms including the location’s own website, as well as social media services, home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, and third-party delivery platforms like Postmates. Through Olo, restaurants can access order analytics and other services to improve their offerings. After going public in March 2021, Lyft joined Olo’s Dispatch network, which automatically selects delivery providers based on optimal price, timing, availability, and other criteria, allowing restaurants to get food to customers as quickly as possible. Olo also partnered with Order Solutions—a company that streamlines and centralizes phone orders for restaurants—to provide more customers with a direct line to the eateries they frequent. In October, Olo announced its acquisition of CRM software company Wisely for $187 million, broadening the services that it offers its restaurant partners. Olo generated $149.4 million in 2021 revenue, an increase of 52% from its $98 million in revenue in 2020.
For making healthy fast food affordable for everyone
Launched in 2016, healthy fast-food chain Everytable has a menu with a sliding price system that changes depending on where its outpost is located, from $8.35 for a chicken, lentil, and quinoa bowl in the Monterey Park neighborhood of Los Angeles to $5.10 for that same dish in another L.A. neighborhood with a lower median income level. All the cooking is done in a centralized kitchen, which means that the company employs fewer workers than it would if the meals were prepared at individual sites. The California-based chain currently operates 20 locations in the state, and has plans to double that number in 2022 and expand into New York City. To keep prices down, Everytable uses the tactics of large chain operators, building commercial-scale kitchens and managing its own fleet of delivery trucks to get food from the centralized kitchen to its various locations. It also has strategically placed smart fridges for customers to pick up grab-and-go meals.
8. Kitchen United
For making it easier to order from a restaurant while you shop for everything else
Based in Pasadena, California, 5-year-old ghost kitchen operator Kitchen United batches orders from different restaurant concepts to deliver them more quickly and efficiently. To help its restaurant partners reach new diners beyond the usual delivery channels, Kitchen United signed deals with shopping center company Westfield to deliver orders to shoppers and local employees via automated lockers (the first one opened in L.A.’s Valley Fair mall in February) and with grocery chain Kroger to give customers restaurant meals that they can bring home from the grocery store. Kitchen United’s ghost kitchens have allowed some restaurants, such as U.K.-based brand Camile Thai, to bring their food stateside without a dedicated brick-and-mortar operation. Kitchen United, which has 17 locations in California, Texas, Arizona, and Illinois, expanded in October by acquiring New York City-based rival Zuul.
9. Too Good To Go
For stopping food from going to waste
Danish company Too Good To Go is working to reduce food waste by creating a marketplace for restaurants, supermarkets, and hotel groups to sell food they would otherwise throw away. The 6-year-old outfit’s app, available on iOS and Google Play, connects consumers to surplus items in their area. They can then pick up what the company calls a “Surprise Bag” of food and beverages for roughly $5 (Too Good To Go takes a commission of $1.79; businesses get to keep the rest). The app, which has been downloaded 53 million times and saved more than 121 million meals from going to waste, is currently available in Denmark, Italy, Spain, the U.K., France, and the United States. Too Good To Go’s U.S.-based roster now includes some 8,000 businesses, including the Radisson Hotel Group.
For bringing home-cooked meals outside the home
Launched in 2019, Shef lets home cooks create food startups in their own kitchens. The company, which allows chefs to market and sell their food through the Shef app, also provides home cooks with the tech and regulatory support they need to grow their businesses. Because local laws differ in each state, Shef, which operates in New York, Austin, and the Bay Area, adjusts its offerings depending on the location. To order, customers pick a chef, select what they want cooked, and specify a delivery window for a few days out. (Meals can be reheated once delivered.) In some areas, Shef uses last-mile delivery services to bring the food to customers; in others, the home cook has to deliver it themselves. Over the past year, the company has worked with city and state legislators across the country to help put forward laws that allow home cooks to launch businesses (especially during the pandemic). Thanks to Shef’s efforts, 44 home-cooking bills were introduced across 29 states. Meanwhile, demand for the service is growing. The company reports that some 12,000 home cooks—85% of whom identify as persons of color—are on its waiting list to be vetted and approved.