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Platform Kitchens and the Remaking of Food Service

Caption: A three-hundred-square foot delivery kitchen within a thirty-minute delivery range of three high-income residential neighborhoods in New York City.

Credit: Jacob Rosette


There is a massive ongoing transformation in the food system, the social process by which we eat. In the United States, 2015 was the first year that people ate more meals “out” than “in” the home.[1 ]Ten years later, global estimates suggest 30 to 50 percent of the food eaten but not cooked at home has returned in the form of delivery, dramatically altering the division of labor between cooking and eating. In 2022, about 1.2 billion people ordered meals online. That same year, in the United States, delivery sales increased at twice the rate of eat-in dining and doubled in countries on six continents.[2] This article examines this global phenomenon from the kitchens of New York City, the largest delivery market in the United States, where 92 percent of restaurants offer delivery, the majority using platforms exclusively.[3]

In restaurants, the “front of house” (FOH) refers to the public-facing roles organized  around the service and exchange of food (waitstaff, hosts, cashiers, drive-thru attendants, etc.) while “back of house” (BOH) labor is organized around the transformation of food (chefs, cooks, dishwashers, etc.). Delivery platforms open a new “front” on the city streets. Activists, journalists, academics, and workers movements’ have grappled with important questions around delivery labor and platform technology—including gig work, workplace automation, new forms of management, surveillance, and more. This article moves these questions to the BOH, asking: how have kitchens been reorganized around delivery platforms? Using observations of over fifty kitchens from 2020 to 2023, I draw out patterns in the reorganization of the workplace and the workday as a means to center two issues: new labor conflicts and new possibilities for solidarity. At a moment when unionization efforts are resurgent across the food system in the United States, understanding this reorganization of kitchens can inform the shape of workers’ movements to come.

Pandemic Kitchens
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated trends toward delivery models that were already in motion.[4] In New York City, in the first three months of the pandemic, 64 percent of food service employees lost their jobs.[5] Seventy percent of jobs lost were in full-service restaurants (where patrons sit down, order from a menu, and food is served at a table). In 2019, one in twelve private-sector workers were employed in the 23,650 restaurants of NYC. In 2022, there were about the same number of restaurants—but 37,000 fewer jobs.[6] However, when we include the 65,000 delivery workers in the city, it is clear that FOH operations have, in fact, expanded since March 2020.[7] In the shift to delivery, FOH service roles were externalized to “independent contractors” who were working “gigs” without the rights or protections of employees under U.S. law replacing, in part, the labor formerly done by tipped FOH workers making a subminimum wage.[8]

Food service workers were classified as “essential workers” during the pandemic.[9] Yet, they make the lowest average wages of any industry in the United States, they are three times as likely to live in poverty than other workers, and twice as likely to rely on public food assistance programs as the overall workforce.[10] Many were unable to access emergency benefits while facing increased risk for exposure and death.[11] This contradiction was the basis for the political struggle of deliveristas in NYC who not only won the first minimum pay rate for platform delivery workers in the United States, but through their actions expanded our understanding of the process as companies were forced to share platform data by the city government.[12]

If we don’t cook, we are dependent on labor in other kitchens—and labor that takes place between the kitchen and the point of consumption. “Social distance” is in fact a workplace—a space where the labor of delivery workers and others takes place. Labor created the conditions for survival during “lockdown.” Labor also created the conditions for remote work.[13] This too has historical precedent: by the early twentieth century, the expansion of restaurants across NYC accompanied a social shift when, for the first time in history, many people were working—and eating—away from where they lived.[14] The social distance between work and home was extended again mid-century, as manufacturing kitchens organized on an industrial scale changed cooking in kitchens organized around production for “take out” and “drive thru” food service.

The New Delivery Model
After 2020, billions of dollars of global capital flooded the city, invested in the consolidation of BOH space within the “delivery range” of post-pandemic geographies of work, consumption, and life. For example, one company purchased a national network of parking lots to be used for mobile delivery kitchens; others converted retail and industrial spaces, some managed by delivery platforms (like DoorDash Kitchens in Brooklyn). At the same time, the kitchens of restaurants, food retail, hotels, mobile food operations, airports, stadiums, and more became potential spaces for platform expansion.

New delivery models were marketed heavily to chefs, managers, and owners offering them opportunities to “increase revenue using existing staff,” “scale down” labor costs, and open “multiple revenue channels” through reorganizing around delivery or by selling food under multiple brands online.[15] New operations opened across the city, which rented “delivery optimized” kitchens (e.g., a Palestinian restaurant in New Jersey with a delivery-only location in New York City) or provided opportunities to test new concepts or launch businesses with lower costs. Some operations actively targeted existing restaurants to license their menus for a percentage of delivery sales. All promised access to new customers; many explicitly pitched their proximity to demographics (“diverse, tech savvy, urban professionals that value convenience and choice”) within a delivery range.

New delivery models were marketed . . . [as] opportunities to “increase revenue” . . . “scale down” labor costs, and open “multiple revenue channels” . . .

From 2020 to 2023, delivery-centric kitchens opened, closed, and expanded across the city in many forms: a food truck that is, in fact, a delivery hub in a lot under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway; a celebrity-branded burger concept, sold via links on social media, simultaneously launched in hundreds of locations nationwide; a converted warehouse in the  range of three high-income neighborhoods renting kitchen space and digital infrastructure to over thirty different delivery companies; an automated kitchen where delivery orders are cooked by a machine programmed and monitored remotely by chefs, data and food scientists, and overseen in-person by one worker whose job consists primarily of “quality control”; a delivery-only kitchen in a post-retail space downtown where workers prepare over one hundred items, sold online under fourteen different names, ready in under five minutes for delivery inside a thirty-minute “window.” In 2024 in NYC, you can order take-out or delivery that is cooked in the kitchen of a restaurant, supermarket, airport, deli, stadium, restaurant, or hotel.

Platform Kitchens
If “dine in” service was a product of early twentieth-century restaurant kitchens and “take out” was a product of mid-century industrial kitchens, “delivery” in the modern form was a late-century development.[16] One origin point in the United States is the Chinese restaurants of uptown Manhattan in the 1970s, where employees distributed paper menus, customers placed orders by calling the restaurant, food was delivered by restaurant employees, and payment was made in cash or credit card over the phone.[17] In the mid-1990s, the first pizzas were sold over the internet; a decade later you could order pizza via smartphone applications (apps).

Today, 90 percent of all platform deliveries in the U.S. are made via three transnational corporations . . .

A platform is a way of organizing a process around digital exchanges over the internet.[18] Platforms (Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Facebook) change the way people move around, get work, rent space, listen to music, socialize, and more. Delivery platforms organize the production and distribution of food using smartphone apps or websites.[19] Grubhub, the largest platform in NYC, started in 2004 as a site where people could read menus online. Later, it added ratings and comments, and then the ability to place orders, coordinate deliveries, and pay the bill. Each was a stage of corporate consolidation backed by many of the same “tech” funds that provided capital for the expansion of platforms in other industries (Uber, Airbnb, and others). Today, 90 percent of all platform deliveries in the United States are made via three transnational corporations with a combined worth of over $75 billion: Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash.

have been described by many names (“ghost,” “cloud,” or “dark” kitchens and “virtual restaurants”), we can define the operations by the primary form of exchange around which a kitchen is organized.[20] Platform kitchens are kitchens organized—or reorganized—around digital exchanges on delivery platforms.

There are two basic models for platform kitchens. The first is a food service establishment that has been reorganized around platforms, when delivery becomes the primary source of its sales. In this model, platforms function primarily as an intermediary in the exchange of food. For example, a restaurant that papers its windows, transforms the dining room into a storage space, and reorganizes its kitchen around high-volume delivery.[21] The second model is an operation that is entirely dependent on a delivery platform, where the platform functions as both intermediary and infrastructure. For example, a delivery-only kitchen on a street with low foot traffic and no customer-facing space is entirely dependent on digital exchanges. Across the many variations of both models, the integration of technology in the organization between the BOH and FOH—at the counter, the dining room, in digital spaces, and in the streets—is the result of another product of labor: data.

Cooking Data
On platforms, customers use apps or websites to view menus, place orders, pay the bill and the tip, get customer support and updates, as well as leave and read ratings. Unlike a standard restaurant, organized as a three-sided relationship between the kitchen, service staff, and customers, a platform kitchen has many sides.[22] The customer side, management side, kitchen side, and delivery side on the user interface (UI) of the platform each has access to different information at different times. However, the data extracted from all of the above is restricted—and for sale. Differences in access to information (“data asymmetries”) reflect and reproduce differences in power.[23] For example, platforms provide management with real-time statistics on sales, cooking and delivery times, customer data, and more. Customers can track delivery workers in real time as they move through the streets. The subordinate status of delivery workers and cooks is indicated in the UI, as neither group can rate customers or restaurants, let alone their bosses.

Data is used to extract value, costs and risks are shifted, and control of parts of the process are externalized while new forms of concentrated power and “algorithmic management” are enacted.[24] In the kitchen, workers are subject to constant surveillance via outputs from platform UI: for example, worker-specific “order accuracy” or the statistical average between inputs—that is, between when they “accept” incoming orders and when they hit “ready.” Furthermore, many platform kitchens are outfitted with multidirectional cameras that track activities between datapoints. In one case, a team of managers monitored kitchens across the city using live video, real-time data feeds, and data purchased from delivery platforms.

With each order, the actions of workers are extracted as data later sold to marketing firms, advertisers, corporations, and to other food service operations. In this way, a product of past labor allows real-time coordination and control in the present, and is used to frame future labor. Unpaid labor provides data used to map routes, coordinate exchanges, make adjustments to labor supply, tweak recipes, test and implement new procedures; while, similar to the tasks of restaurant managers, management in this instance is partly outsourced to platforms and partly taken on by other “experts.” One company, for example, employed massive teams specializing in areas including digital marketing, design, software development, data science, media, engineering, project management, business-to-business sales, and nutrition, all dependent on data inputs from kitchen and delivery workers, along with customer data extracted from delivery, social media, and advertising platforms.

Platform kitchens are not simply organized around culinary logics (“what’s the best way to cook a fish?”), but also the logics of spatial data analysis (“how many other Vietnamese restaurants are there within the delivery range?”), digital marketing (“how many followers does a brand have on Instagram that we can directly market this menu to?”), or real estate (“who lives within the delivery range of the proposed space?”). If there is a “ghost” in a “ghost kitchen,” it is the chef.

“Back of House” Labor in a Delivery Window
In the new division of labor between cooking and eating organized around platforms, the “front of house” works in a delivery range (on average 1.8 miles in NYC).[25] Platform technology integrates other technologies that were already changing FOH spaces in food service and retail.26 For example, QR (“quick response”) barcodes scanned from smartphones allow customers to read menus and place orders, thus replacing the job of a waiter who takes orders with that of a “runner” who drops food and clears tables. Smartphone apps, digital reservations, and ordering terminals allow for limited staff interactions; many now work the FOH in the streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, elevators, and apartment stairs.

With each [food] order, the actions of workers are extracted as data later sold to marketing firms, advertisers, corporations, and to other food service operations.

The BOH in platform kitchens cooks inside a delivery window, that is, a specific time frame from order to delivery that is ideally thirty to forty minutes—with most of it reserved for delivery. In the kitchen, tablets sitting on the “pass” or screens above the “line” display orders from each platform; many also display in-house orders, from restaurant websites for instance.

Delivery platforms significantly change the economics of platform-as-intermediary models. In standard restaurant math, labor, food costs, and expenses (rent, utilities, equipment, supplies, repairs) each average more than 30 percent of expected sales, with an average 5 percent profit before taxes.[27] Against increasing food costs and commercial rents, platform delivery forces restaurants to shift to a high-volume and high-intensity labor process—with diminishing returns. For example, in a Chinatown restaurant that easily converted to a delivery-only business during the early pandemic, when the majority of sales came through platforms as opposed to direct orders or walk-in traffic, it created a paradox: as the sales volume went up, profits went down. Platforms increase the potential amount of orders but decrease the revenue for each. While, on average, customers pay a 40 percent premium for delivery compared to dining in the restaurant, more than half is captured by the platform through fees.[28]

. . . [P]latform delivery forces restaurants to shift to a high-volume and high-intensity labor process—with diminishing returns.

In the platform-as-infrastructure model of kitchens, in most cases, the point of delivery exists in relation to other kitchens: simplicity in one is made possible by complex labor in others. For example, in a network of NYC kitchens, cooks at the point of delivery never touch a knife: each menu item corresponds to a “kit” with pre-portioned ingredients, each action is planned, and rapid-cook ovens with pre-set programs are used to have foods ready for pickup inside five minutes. These kits are supplied by a centralized “commissary” (manufacturing) kitchen, where a team of chefs, almost two hundred cooks, and two dozen dishwashers, working two shifts, process, heat, and chill foods for transport for the final stages of cooking, assembly, and exchange in another space. Simplification is a means for some operations to get around regulatory requirements, where rapid-cook ovens for “reheating” food (like those used in Subway sandwich chains) do not require expensive exhaust systems legally mandated for cooking—and so a delivery kitchen “reheating” and assembling food can be opened inside a former newsstand or an unused section
of a hotel. This creates an opening to avoid legal restrictions and creates potentially unsafe working conditions. One kitchen I observed cooked for over fifteen different delivery menus with a staff of six in a space with no windows, barely wide enough for two people to walk by each other—and five rapid-cook ovens running at 450 to 500 degrees!

Another way platform kitchens simplify labor at the point of delivery is to outsource production to external manufacturing kitchens: in simple forms (parbaked pizza dough) and complex (a portioned, “to spec,” pre-seasoned and chilled fish filet, vacuum-sealed for transport and extended shelf life). This cuts across both models, as many food service and retail spaces purchase partially or fully cooked foods to speed up order time (a line of proprietary frozen dumplings; a celebrity-branded dessert line). In some cases, foods are stored, cooked, and delivered in the same packaging. In this way, platforms open a local frontier in food service for relations and technologies found in the global commodity chains of supermarkets, “fast food,” and in-flight meal  service. In fact, one major NYC-based platform kitchen operation is rapidly expanding nationwide via platform kitchens in hotels, Walmarts, and airports, serving menus licensed from multiple chain restaurants alongside more “upscale” brands.

Time is central in the process of kitchens as platform economics demands the multiplication and internalization of new demands in the workday.[29] In platform-as-intermediary models, staff is tasked with production for expanded delivery operations on top of regular operations. Platforms connect a kitchen to tens of thousands of potential customers in the delivery range of high-density urban areas, most whom order during peak delivery times. Some kitchens sell multiple concepts, each with brand-specific protocols and packaging and, in theory, different customers; and most sell menus on multiple platforms. The demands on workers in platform kitchens have the potential to increase exponentially (and most of these spaces are staffed by two or three cooks). There are new demands in the “hand-off” to delivery workers and “take out” customers. One multi-unit facility uses a robotic “food runner” guided by artificial intelligence to pick up orders and bring them to the pickup area based on cook times programmed into the platform UI or when summoned by workers in a kitchen unit. Often, operations are synced by logistical sequences: between drivers in the supply chain, employees who transport food between kitchens, teams in warehouses, and purchasing departments—all before the “hand-off” to delivery workers. For chain restaurants that sell via their own apps alongside delivery platforms, existing global supply networks connect delivery-only hubs or partitioned kitchens to separate entrances or service windows designated for delivery “pick up.”

Platforms connect a kitchen to tens of thousands of potential customers . . . most whom order during peak delivery times.

On an organizational level, time exists within venture capital cycles, where massive startup costs are fronted by investment funds, and sustained operations are contingent on gaining access to new rounds of funding.[30] Platform kitchens are often organized around “proof of concept,” increased market-share, or profitability, measured in revenue-per-minute or item-specific “ready time” data. In one case, when management could not prove a reduction in “cook time” to investors, funding was cut, and the entire staff was laid off.

New Conflicts and New Possibilities
Platforms create new conflicts in many aspects of the process. In “vertical conflicts,” between management and workers, data is used for control and coordination; between customers and restaurants, reviews of restaurants affect placement on the list of delivery options displayed to customers; between customers and delivery workers, reviews affect future possibilities for work. Delivery platforms also create new forms of “horizontal” conflict between workers, in particular delivery workers and kitchen workers. The ongoing conflict between FOH and BOH workers in restaurants, shaped by time constraints, conflicting priorities, and pay structures (wages vs. tips) is translated into the platform model.[31] Kitchen workers, almost always employees, are encouraged by management to accept every incoming order as fast as possible on platforms due to the low-margin, high-volume economics of food delivery. At the same time, delivery workers  paid per “gig” cannot receive their next order until they are on the way with food in hand. This often leads delivery workers to input “received order” on the delivery side of the app before food is  handed off. If there are delays or problems, cooks and delivery workers are subject to negative feedback with real-world consequences. In addition, the limited FOH staff in platform kitchens must manage both the flow of orders from the kitchen (“we’re missing items from Order #2052”) and a stream of delivery workers holding up their smartphones with order information or shouting out the platform (“Uber Eats!”).

Even as they create new conflicts, platforms create new openings for solidarity and political alignment.

Even as they create new conflicts, platforms create new openings for solidarity and political alignment. As platforms divide and externalize parts of the workplace, they create a set of shared conditions faced by workers in otherwise disparate spaces across the food system. This includes chain restaurants—where recent unionization efforts in the United States have been concentrated—as well as small, independent restaurants and food retail operations that have been historically difficult for union organizing, and the rare unionized spaces in the NYC food system, a few grocery stores, hotels, stadiums, catering operations, and corporate dining facilities.[32] These new connections also open potential for new forms of public-worker solidarity. Each potential delivery customer is also a cook, who also works in a kitchen at home; just as food workers also cook, eat out, and order in. Delivery operations take place in public spaces and depend on public infrastructure. Data is a product of labor and a source of value; the right to control data is a demand around which workers and consumers can find alignment.

What would a workers’ movement look like built from these connections? When we account for work in the BOH and the new FOH, we can see that “gig” work is just one exchange in a sequence organized between the many spaces in the process of food preparation and delivery. We can follow the lead of deliveristas in NYC and organize the connections between spaces in this process. Connecting these organizing efforts to the kitchen is a potential means for delivery workers to counter the backlash and the incredible financial power that platforms use to influence the legislative process in order to shape labor relations and the use of public space in the city.[33] At the same time that the global capitalist food system produces about 50 percent more food than it would take to feed every hungry person on the planet—and the people of NYC face vastly unequal access to forms of food—understanding the organization of food workers across the city can widen the strategic and political horizons for organized labor.[34]


Notes
1. Michelle J. Saksena, Abigail M. Okrent, Tobenna D. Anekwe, Clare Cho, Christopher Dicken, Anne Effland, Howard Elitzak, Joanne Guthrie, Karen Hamrick, Jeffrey Hyman, Young Jo, Biing-Hwan Lin, Lisa Mancino, Patrick W. McLaughlin, Ilya Rahkovsky, Katherine Ralston, Travis A. Smith, Hayden Stewart, Jessica E. Todd, and Charlotte Tuttle, “America’s Eating Habits: Food Away from Home,” No. 281119. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2018, https://www.ers.usda. gov/webdocs/publications/90228/eib-196.pdf.
2. Delivery sales in 2022 doubled in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, UK, Germany, France, China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia, source: Statista, 2023. For overall analysis of delivery in the United States from a marketing perspective, see: Kabir Ahuja, Vishwa Chandra, Victoria Lord, and Curtis Peens, “Ordering in: The Rapid Evolution of Food Delivery,” McKinsey & Company, 2021, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/ordering-in-the-rapidevolution-of-food-delivery; For indication of the global scale of this shift from eating out to delivery, a 2022 marketing survey of urban delivery customers on three continents suggested that, in 2022, people ate “out” about 50 percent of meals, of those, with about 31 percent were delivery and 22 percent “to go,” see: “Restaurants Rebound While Food Delivery Becomes a Post-Pandemic Norm,” Kantar, https://www.kantar.com/company-news/restaurants-rebound-while-food-delivery-becomes-apost-pandemic-norm. Asia is the largest overall geographic market for delivery and eating out, see: Elise Mognard, Kremlasen Naidoo, Cyrille Laporte, Laurence Tibère, Yasmine Alem, Helda Khusun, Judhiastuty Februhartanty, Yoko Niiyama, Haruka Ueda, Anindita Dasgupta, Anne Dupuy, Amandine Rochedy, Jan Li Yuen, Mohd Noor Ismail, Pradeep Kumar Nair, Neethianhantan Ari Ragavan, and Jean-Pierre Poulain, “‘Eating Out,’ Spatiality, Temporality and Sociality. A Database for China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and France,” Frontiers in Nutrition 10 (2023): 1066737.
3. NYC is the largest delivery market by population size, total number of meals delivered, and average spending on delivery per person; source: Statista, 2023. Fifty-two percent of restaurants offering delivery in NYC exclusively used platform workers to make deliveries, while 40 percent used employees exclusively. Source: NYC Department of Consumer and Work Protection, “A Minimum Pay Rate for App-based Delivery Workers in NYC,” NYC. gov, 2022.
4. Statistics shared by platforms to market analysts suggest that, by 2015, 10 percent of all delivery orders on platforms were produced in delivery-only kitchens; see: Alicia Kelso, “How the Pandemic Accelerated the US Ghost Kitchen Market ‘5 Years in 3 Months,’ Restaurant Dive,” 2020, https://www.restaurantdive.com/news/how-the-pandemic-accelerated-the-us-ghost-kitchen-market-5-years-in-3-mont/585604/. In 2019, there were an estimated seven thousand five hundred delivery-only kitchens in operation in China, three thousand five hundred in India, and one thousand five hundred in the United States; Euromonitor, “Ghost Kitchens: Food Delivery Amid Lockdown,” 2021, https://www.euromonitor.com/webinar/ghost-kitchens-food-delivery-amid-lockdown. Marketing materials from the largest delivery platform in NYC claimed there was food from one hundred fifty thousand to two hundred thousand “virtual restaurants” sold on the platform in 2021, Grubhub, “Virtual Restaurants: The New Secret Weapon of The Restaurant Industry,” 2021, https://get.grubhub.com/resources/virtual-res taurants-whitepaper/. For context, again, there were approximately nine hundred thirty-five thousand restaurants in operation in the United States that year.
5. New York State Comptroller, 2022, New York City Restaurant, Retail and Recreation Sectors Still Face Uphill Recovery, 2022.
6. Ibid.
7. Estimate of delivery workers from: Maria Figueroa, Ligia Guallpa, Andrew Wolf, Glendy Tsitouras, and Hidalyn Colón-Hernández, “Essential but Unprotected: App-Based Food Couriers in New York City. Workers Justice Project/Los Deliveristas Unidos,” 2023, https://www.issuelab.org/resources/38934/38934.pdf.
8. In the United States, for example, tipped workers, domestic workers (including cooks), agricultural workers, and “independent contractors” were excluded from the twentieth-century legislation that established the rights (and limits) to collective bargaining in the workplace, and those that set the minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards. For an example of a historical shift, in the mid-twentieth century, the shift to “two-earner” households was facilitated in part by the replacement of gendered domestic labor by a mostly male and immigrant workforce in food service, see: Krishnendu Ray, The Ethnic Restaurateur (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016). See also: Duffy, Mignon. “Doing the dirty work: Gender, race, and reproductive labor in historical perspective.” Gender & society 21, no. 3 (2007): 313-336.
9. State executive orders of “essential status” applied federal critical infrastructure frameworks, organized by industry, to the labor force in those sectors. The food sector, including agriculture, processing, and food service, represents one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity. See: “Food and Agriculture Sector.” Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, https://www.cisa.gov/topics/critical-infrastructure-security-and-resilience/critical-infrastructure-sectors/food-and-agriculture-sector.
10. Restaurant Opportunities Center, “State of the Restaurant Workers,” 2020, https://stateofrestaurantworkers.com/.
11. Immigration status was one reason among many for the lack of access to social safety net during the pandemic. An estimated 23 percent of cooks and food preparation workers and 33 percent of dishwashers are undocumented. Maria E. Enchautegui, “Immigrant and Native Workers Compete for Different Low-Skilled Jobs,” Urban Institute, 2015, https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/immigrant-and-nativeworkers-compete-different-low-skilled-jobs. For more, see: Alexandrea J. Ravenelle, Side Hustle Safety Net: How Vulnerable  Workers Survive Precarious Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2023). In terms of risk, one study in California analyzing “excess mortality” rates showed that being a “line cook” was the most dangerous job in the state in 2021. See: Yea-Hung Chen, Maria Glymour, Alicia Riley, John Balmes, Kate Duchowny, Robert Harrison, Ellicott Matthay, and Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, “Excess Mortality Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic among Californians 18-65 Years of Age, by Occupational Sector and Occupation: March through November 2020,” PLoS ONE 16, no. 6 (2021): e0252454. The same was true for “gig” workers in the new “front of house.” In 2021, 40 percent of platform workers in NYC reported COVID infection on the job, compared to 26 percent of employees, Irene Lew, Debipriya Chatterjee, and Emerita Torres, The Gig Is Up: An Overview of New York City’s App-Based Gig Workforce during  COVID-19 (New York: Community Service Society, 2021).
12. See: Kressent Pottenger, “In Harm’s Way: Delivery Workers Fight the Apps,” New Labor Forum 32, no. 1 (2023): 98-101; Kitty Weiss Krupat and Ligia M. Guallpa. “Los Deliveristas Unidos and the Ideals of Worker Justice,” New Labor Forum 32, no. 2 (2023): 23-29; Legislation in NYC includes changes to platform tip structures, pay schedules, making tips and routes visible to workers before they accept a delivery, gaining the right to mandatory bathroom access. The minimum pay rate covers not only the time when workers are making a delivery, but also the time they are signed in on the app waiting. See: NYC Department of Consumer and Work Protection, “A Minimum Pay Rate for App-Based Delivery Workers in NYC.”
13. Credit card transactions from 2020 to 2023 show that commercial activity overall shrank in downtowns and grew in residential areas, see: James Duguid, Bryan Kim, Lindsay Relihan, and Chris Wheat, “The Impact of Work-from-Home on Brick-and-Mortar Retail Establishments: Evidence from Card Transactions,” 2023, https://ssrn.com/abstract=4466607. An estimated 38 percent to 43 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2021 worked in part from home, including about 60 percent of managers and so-called “professionals.” Hilary Silver, “Working from Home: Before and After the Pandemic,” Contexts 22, no. 1 (2023): 66-70.
14. Cindy R. Lobel, Urban Appetites: Food and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).
15. Selling multiple brands from one kitchen is sometimes referred to as a “virtual restaurant.” Some restaurants shifted their entire business model to delivery based on their existing menu concept, others sold food under other multiple brand names including their existing menu, some sold external brands facilitated by licensing agreements for a percentage of sales and often fixed supply agreements, others sold inhouse online-only brands.
16. The multipolar nature of developments in delivery requires a much deeper historical and global approach and is a subject for another discussion. That said, the dabbawalas of Mumbai and the relationship between domestic kitchens and delivery logistics is an important case; see: G. S. Pathak, “Delivering the Nation: The Dabbawalas of Mumbai,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 33, no. 2 (2010): 235-57.
17. There were mid-century precedents in the suburbs of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California where Chinese restaurants offered twenty-four-hour order ahead of scheduled deliveries; Emelyn Rude, “What Takeout Food Can Teach You about American History.” Time, April 14, 2016. https://time.com/4291197/takeout-delivery-food-history/. For Chinese restaurants and NYC delivery, see: Jennifer B. Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (New York: Twelve, 2008).
18. Delivery platforms consolidated earlier technologies, including “point of sale” (POS) systems, first developed in 1970s “fast food” operations to coordinate BOH cooking and FOH service, as well as early forms of “social media.” The idea of a platform was first articulated in the “tech” (technology) industries, to describe the hardware and software used to host other applications or services, see: Narayan, Devika. “Platform Capitalism and Cloud Infrastructure: Theorizing a Hyper-Scalable Computing Regime,” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 54, no. 5 (2022): 911-29. See also: Steven Vallas and Juliet B. Schor, “What Do Platforms Do? Understanding the Gig Economy,”Annual Review of Sociology 46 (2020): 273-294.
19. See: L. Richardson, “Platforms, Markets, and Contingent Calculation: The Flexible Arrangement of the Delivered Meal,” Antipode 52, no. 3 (2020): 619-36. For social media and restaurants, see: Sharon Zukin, Scarlett Lindeman, and Laurie Hurson, “The Omnivore’s Neighborhood? Online Restaurant Reviews, Race, and Gentrification,” Journal of Consumer Culture 17, no. 3  2017): 459-79.
20. Classifying food service operations by the form of exchange is already standard practice. For example, the “limited service” or “full service” classifications used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Or the idea of “fast food” in popular culture. Within a sociological framework, understanding different types of kitchens (domestic, service, institutional, manufacturing, platform) is a means to locate each space within the social process of a food system.
21. These platform-as-intermediary operations exist along a spectrum; I would suggest any food service operation that makes a majority of sales via delivery platforms is a platform kitchen;  however, many businesses are dependent on platform revenue and have reorganized their operations to facilitate a critical part of their business could be considered platform kitchens.
22. The first major sociological study of restaurants in 1948 observed that restaurants, unlike industrial production, are organized in a process on three sides—between production, service, and customers. See: W. F. Whyte, Human Relations in the Restaurant Industry (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948).
23. For a discussion of “data asymmetries” and power, see: Shoshana Zuboff, “Surveillance Capitalism and the Challenge of Collective Action,” New Labor Forum 28, no. 1 (2019): 10-29.
24. Vallas and Schor, “What Do Platforms Do?”; Kathleen Griesbach, Adam Reich, Luke Elliott- Negri, and Ruth Milkman, “Algorithmic Control in Platform Food Delivery Work,” Socius 5 88 New Labor Forum 33(2) (2019): 2378023119870041; D. Stark and I. Pais, “Algorithmic Management in the Platform Economy,” Sociologica 14, no. 3 (2020): 47-72; J. Sadowski, “The Internet of Landlords: Digital Platforms and New Mechanisms of Rentier Capitalism,” Antipode 52, no. 2 (2020): 562-80; Jackson Todd, “Navigating Jefes Fantasmas in New York City’s Urban Platform Economy,” Metropolitics, 2023, https://metropolitics.org/Navigating-Jefes-Fantasmas-in-New-York-City-s-Urban-Platform-Economy.html.
25. NYC Department of Consumer and Work Protection, “A Minimum Pay Rate for Appbased Delivery Workers in NYC.”
26. Parallels in food retail include “self-checkout” lines, gig-based shoppers, and expanded warehousing and delivery logistics; see: A. Shapiro, “Platform Urbanism in a Pandemic: Dark Stores, Ghost Kitchens, and the Logistical-Urban Frontier,” Journal of Consumer Culture 23, no. 1 (2023): 168-87.
27. See “Bottom Line Impact of Rising Costs for Restaurants,” National Restaurant Association, August 24, 2022, https://restaurant.org/research-and-media/research/economistsnotebook/analysis-commentary/bottom-lineimpact-of-rising-costs-for-restaurants.
28. Ahuja et al., “Ordering in: The Rapid Evolution of Food Delivery.”
29. See Chapter 2 in: Gary Alan Fine, Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).
30. For more on these dynamics of venture capital and “tech” in the city, see: Sharon Zukin, “Seeing like a City: How Tech became Urban,” Theory and Society 49, no. 5-6 (2020): 941-64.
31. The structural nature of conflicts has been noted in sociological research; in fact, the first book-length study of restaurants in 1948 had as an objective, among other things, to identify the cause (and potential solution) to this very conflict between cooks and service workers. See: W. F. Whyte, Human Relations in the Restaurant Industry (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948). For a contemporary look at the structured conflicts between tipped workers and waged workers, see: Hanna Goldberg, “Divided Wages and Divided Workers: Tips and the Two-Employer Problem,” in Ethnographies of Work, ed. R. Delbridge, M. Helfen, A. Pekarek, and G. Purser (Emerald Publishing Limited, 2023), 9-33.
32. It is important not to overstate this, as very small percentages of food workers in the United States are unionized, even those mentioned here. The outlier here in the case of NYC are grocery workers unions, see: Ruth Milkman, “Grocery Unions under the Gun in New York City and the Nation,” New Labor Forum 31, no. 2 (2022): 17-26.
33. The new minimum pay rate for delivery workers in NYC is being challenged in court; it is still below what is considered a “living wage” in NYC; and in late-2023, after the law went into effect, platforms responded by restructuring the tip structure on the user interface, making it harder for customers to leave tips and for workers to receive them. For an important discussion of transformation of labor relations and public space as a political project advanced by platforms at the city level, see: Katie J. Wells, Kafui Attoh, and Declan Cullen. Disrupting DC: The Rise of Uber and the Fall of the City (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023).
34. See: “5 Facts about Food Waste and Hunger: World Food Programme,” UN World Food Programme, n.d., https://www.wfp.org/stories/5-facts-about-food-waste-and-hunger.


Author Biography
Jacob Rosette is a PhD student in the sociology program at the CUNY Graduate Center, studying kitchens, markets, and the social process of urban food systems. His research follows his working life: for over twenty years, he worked as a cook and a chef in kitchens across New York City.

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