One is a food cart. One is a “ghost kitchen.”

[Ed. Note: Apparently what I’m talking about here is referred to as a “ghost kitchen.” Thank you, Eric Sorenson.]

Yesterday a coworker pointed out to me that the cart on the right in this picture isn’t actually a cart: You can’t walk up and order food at the window. Rather, it’s a mobile kitchen with multiple storefronts on UberEats. 

Sorta torn. I don’t feel completely put off because it’s just sort of interesting to see the ways the Internet keeps changing stuff, and these people seem to be deftly maneuvering through a set of conditions that make it easier for them to make a small business out of a patchwork of regulatory concessions to micro-businesses (food courts) and “free” infrastructure (gig economy delivery services). 

I’m having a bad reaction to this because I feel like anything that further deepens the pattern of “sit around in your house and have cars bring stuff to you” isn’t the right way forward. ESPECIALLY operating right out of the middle of our downtown. There are ride share stats that indicate Uber and Lyft (not food delivery, just car “share”) contribute to upwards of 13 percent of the traffic in San Francisco’s urban core (Chicago, 3.3; LA, 2.6; DC, 6.9). Then layer on “food carts” that are getting a break from a city that is trying its hardest to support small entrepreneurs and all the traffic in and out of downtown. 

Anecdotally, these are also some of the most erratic, difficult drivers. My informal scoring system as a motorcyclist included +10 feet of clearance for each Uber/Lyft/whatever sticker: They’re frequently heads down in their GPS, suddenly darting across three lanes to get their turn or get to the bridge they need, so they’re not only adding congestion, they’re contributing to the stop-start dynamic by making everyone else react. 

And I feel resistant because I feel resistant to the gig economy generally. What a failure—or at least a tragic misuse—of our collective imagination. 

Army anecdote: When I was enlisted, the PX had a similar thing going: You’d go to a food court with five or six “restaurants,” including a pizza place, a Chinese place, a sandwich place, etc. Each had its own branding and menu, but the kitchen backing them all was the same kitchen, same employees, same napkins/cups/tray mats, etc. It was just there to create a simulacrum of what people were used to in the real world. Sometimes it was even funny in an uncanny valley kind of way. All the branding looked almost but not quite like some real-world analog, like if WestWorld wanted to make a shopping mall but couldn’t secure the licensing for Panda Garden, Sbarro, or Subway.