Has the Cryptocurrency Craze Finally Hit the Restaurant Industry? Time Will Tell

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve likely heard about the skyrocketing cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin. For years, savvy investors have gobbled up the speculative currency in hopes of striking it rich, but the number of places to actually spend that digital cash has been, well…. pretty lackluster.

According to Statista, an estimated 6% of Americans use or own cryptocurrency. However, that number could be higher based on tangential information from companies like Coinbase, which recently revealed that it had surpassed 40 million users. It was not mentioned how many of those users were based in the United States.

So, the number of people buying and using crypto is slowly starting to grow; now what? People can buy a Tesla with those coins or purchase some home décor from Overstock, but what if they want a burger? When will the biggest brands in the restaurant industry throw open their arms to accept Dogecoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrency? Apparently, the day might be coming sooner than we think.

On April 1, also known as National Burrito Day for the unanointed, Chipotle and Coil founder and CEO Stefan Thomas launched an interactive game called “Burritos or Bitcoin,” where players had ten opportunities to crack a 6-digit code. 10,000 lucky winners received a free burrito, 50 people won $500 in Bitcoin, and only 3 winners received $25,000 worth of the digital currency. The event made the fast-casual Mexican chain the first U.S. restaurant brand to host a crypto giveaway.

While this seems like a far stretch from being able to walk into your local pizza joint and pay with crypto, the contest may offer a look into how the industry’s biggest brands are beginning to embrace the idea. As more brands warm up to the thought of accepting alternate payment options in their restaurants and cafes, it closely follows the whims of Gen Z, which has largely been leading the charge for new technology across the digital landscape.

Although some large fast-food concepts, namely Burger King locations in Venezuela and Germany, KFC in Canada (for a short time), and Pizza Hut (also in Venezuela) have dipped their toes into accepting cryptocurrency, they’ve typically been small-scale efforts. It wasn’t until recently that Starbucks began to experiment with accepting Bitcoin with the help of a company called Bakkt that we saw a restaurant truly move toward full acceptance. On April 1, Bakkt announced that customers could use Bitcoin, frequent flier miles, and gift cards to reload their cards through the Starbucks app.

Starbucks may not be accepting bitcoin directly at its locations, but the brand is putting itself at the forefront of a quickly developing trend by creating a system that works and giving customers additional ways to load up their cards. Other companies like Bakkt are also jumping on board, allowing users to convert their crypto into gift cards for use at their favorite eateries and cafes.

Regardless of the number of people using cryptocurrency as a form of payment right now, the number is growing and should at least be on every restaurant brand’s radar. Technology has no plans of slowing down, and the people adopting these technologies the most are younger generations these brands are attempting to develop into raving fans.

1 Byte Favourites (CNW Group/Pizza Hut Canada)
1 Byte Favourites (CNW Group/Pizza Hut Canada)

The industry may not be jumping feet first into digital currencies just yet, but they have dipped their toes into the water in smaller ways. For example, Pizza Hut Canada recently experimented with non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, with their “1 Byte Favourites” digital slices in several fan-favorite styles, including Hawaiian, Canadian, and pepperoni. Originally priced at 0.0001 ETH, the Ethereum equivalent of about 18 cents or the cost of one real bite of pizza according to the pizza giant, the digital tokens sold for more than $8,800.

It’s encouraging to see how many brands are exploring the future of digital currency, but it’s safe to say the move toward your local fast-food joint accepting Bitcoin is going to be slow. For all the hype around all these different digital coins, the fact of the matter remains fairly simple; it’s still pretty new, the market is way too volatile, and most businesses haven’t seen a critical mass of customers demanding to pay in Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Dogecoin.

That could all change soon, but for now the excitement is building, and the restaurant industry is keeping a close eye on the horizon.