QR Codes Make a Comeback as Restaurants Go Contactless

Leslie Ignacio

Leslie Ignacio is dot.LA's editorial intern. She is a recent California State University, Northridge graduate and previously worked for El Nuevo Sol, Telemundo and NBC and was named a Chips Quinn Scholar in 2019. As a bilingual journalist, she focuses on covering diversity in news. She's a Los Angeles native who enjoys trips to Disneyland in her free time.

QR Codes Make a Comeback as Restaurants Go Contactless

At the new zero-waste restaurant La Papille Gustative, customers don't even have to see a server to order $18 avocado toast or $15 buckwheat quinoa waffles.

They can order straight from their mobile phone while dining outside.

"We are not a full service restaurant; we don't have a server coming to you taking your orders, but this is your server. This is your waiter," said owner, Marina Aljanedi.

Aljanedi, like tens of thousands of restaurateurs, has had to adjust to the new pandemic normal. The California Restaurant Association estimates two-thirds of workers in the industry have been either laid off or furloughed since March as some of the biggest names in the Los Angeles-scene, such as Bazaar and Bäco Mercat, permanently closed.

Those that have survived have adopted new contactless menus, delivery services and other tech-powered solutions to keep their employees safe and diners fed.

Aljanedi, who had to scramble to provide outdoor dining, added Santa Monica-based Order For Me's service to let customers order ahead or at their table.

The service relies on QR codes — once said to be a thing of the past. But these codes help power services by companies including Paytronix, Presto and Zuppler that restaurants are increasingly relying on to keep their profits up and customers at a distance. The ordering system lets in-house diners buy food on their phone, a function that companies like Grubhub, Chownow and Postmates haven't focused on.

Order For Me's platform lets customers order, pay and tip from their phones. Its most distinguishing feature is that it allows diners at the same table to split bills and keep a running tab.

Although the company only operates in 35 restaurants in Los Angeles, it's working with several hotels to expand their services. And it has seen a spike in demand as California restaurants prepare to reopen in the coming weeks under Gov. Gavin Newsom's new order that allows for a 25% capacity at qualified dine-in restaurants.

But competition is stiff as the restaurant business is increasingly turning to tech.

Founded two years ago by Michael Jordan and chef Greg Daniels, Order For Me sought to develop a contactless ordering service.

At the time, Jordan thought the platform would benefit from California's minimum wage increase as restaurants sought to offset the cost of labor, but he never expected a pandemic to increase the need for the product.

Order for Me co-founders Greg Daniels (L) and Michael Jordan (R).

"I started in 2018. I knew this was going to be a very steep climb; we were thinking like 10 years to do this and disrupt the industry," said Jordan. "But we committed to it because we knew that it was going to happen, and it was going to be us. We were in a few restaurants before COVID and then COVID hit and we changed up our product a little bit."

He added an order-ahead feature to the service.

To draw in new customers, Order For Me is offered free for life to restaurants that sign on until the end of 2020 and to keep a 5% service fee that guests pay when using the platform. The company makes money by charging users a small service fee for the transaction.

Jordan said the pandemic likely changed restaurateurs attitudes about the need for technology as part of their business.

"The attitude was (once), 'Well, I can't wait to get this over with, and for it to get back to normal'," he said. But after restaurants had to shut down for a second time, there was a gradual acceptance. "Normal is going to be different," said Jordan. "Definitely the customer's mindset is changed, probably permanently."

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.


Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand
Provided by BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

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If Angelenos Don’t Seize the Curb, They Risk Losing Sidewalk Dining

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Connie Llanos, Jordan Justus and Gene Oh
Justin Janes, Vizeos Media

Three years ago, Los Angeles went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, cities like L.A. are struggling to hold on to pandemic-era transportation and infrastructure changes, like sidewalk dining and slow streets, while managing escalating demand for curb space from rideshare and delivery.

At Curbivore, a conference dedicated to “commerce at the curb” held earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, the topic was “Grading on a Curb: The State of our Streets & Cities in 2023,” a panel moderated by Drew Grant, editorial director for dot.LA.

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