Restaurants face stiff competition from their competitors, a fact I intimately understand after running a small, full-service ABC-licensed restaurant. I quickly decided to expand my sales by adding food deliveries in nearby areas in the downtown area. I earned quite a bit back in the early 2000s with an in-house delivery system, but I feel quite a bit of jealousy when I study the new technologies for ordering and paying for food and the ability to hire outside drivers and driver services to make urgent deliveries faster and more efficiently.
If you’re thinking of adding deliveries to your restaurant operation or need to improve the restaurant delivery service, I think I have a few ideas that will help. According to a Grubhub article, the most important issues for delivering food include several key metrics: timeliness and order accuracy. I would add that targeting the right customers is also of critical importance. The following YouTube video explores the delivery trend that’s taking the world by storm.
The Benefits of Timely Delivery Service
Timely food deliveries make it more likely that people will order from your restaurant. Arriving on time, within the estimated delivery window, is one of the most important benefits for people ordering food. Delivering quickly is important, so your restaurant should keep deliveries within a specific delivery area that can be reached quickly. It’s also necessary to have enough drivers to handle an unexpected rush.
Generally, you can expect delivery orders and in-house orders to balance. When it’s cold, rainy or snowing, more people will order delivery service, but fewer will brave the elements to dine-in at the restaurant. That’s true on average days, but weekends and special occasions can result in big business inside and outside. Entrepreneurs who own more than one restaurant or franchise can speed deliveries by marketing their deliver area for each operation or sending orders to the most convenient location. It’s important to estimate potential delays based on weather, road conditions or heavy demand.
Despite all planning and estimates, a food delivery business can soar for reasons that you can’t always predict. That’s why it’s important to have delivery options for food. It’s often a hit-or-miss business, and employing delivery drivers full-time is cost-prohibitive. That’s why an outside delivery service is so important. That can free you of many of the expenses and much of the administrative work necessary to run an in-house delivery service. The right delivery partner can inform you of estimated delivery times and supply enough drivers to handle your needs – no matter how great or small.
This YouTube video features the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s discussion with Crystal Edmonson and the Schumacher Group about how the delivery trend and ordering apps affect every restaurant’s bottom line.
Order Accuracy Increases Business and Saves Time Correcting Mistakes
Accuracy is critical, and you definitely need a POS system that clearly identifies all the possible options. The hard copy of the order becomes a checklist that your expediter, dispatcher, and driver can double- or triple-check. One missed item can throw a monkey-wrench into the works and delay deliveries across-the-board while drivers attempt to correct the oversight.
Providing condiments by-request-only is a good policy because these items can be reviewed before the order is dispatched. Some of the best practices to ensure order accuracy include:
- Limiting Menu Items for Delivery
Many restaurants – mine included – accept special orders in-house, but these can be tricky when prepared for delivery. It’s best to limit delivery items and special preparation methods. Try to list all the common add-ons and leave-outs so that these instructions can be double-checked. If there are special instructions that don’t appear on the list, these should be written on the order confirmation and confirmed with the chef.
- Preparing Beverages
Beverages can be a nightmare, and I recommend selling sodas and other beverages in cans when possible. You can add straws and covered cups of ice, but you should make it as easy as possible for the delivery driver. Hot beverages should never be filled to the top, and they should be seated in a sturdy cup carrier with the requested number of creamers, stirrers and sugar packets.
- Packing Orders
It’s important to pack items as carefully as possible. You might cut out pieces of cardboard to stabilize paper bags – especially if they contain cups of coffee, soup and other containers with lots of liquid. Fold-down the tops of bags, and staple or tape them in place for added stability. Using reheatable and stable containers is a big plus – they might be more expensive, but your customers will appreciate the convenience
Be sure to supply the requested condiments, napkins and plasticware. There might be some condiments that you automatically add if they’re important to the taste of your food.
Label all the bags with the customer’s name and number of bags – 1 of 7, 2 of 7, etc. Tape or staple the order confirmation to the first bag. This makes it easier on the driver who might have multiple orders to deliver and prevents overlooking part of the order. Include any beverage carriers in the count.
- Provide a Separate Area for Delivery Orders
Double-checking orders and managing delivery items can tie-up the server window, so process food for deliveries and carry out in a separate area where staff can work on them without compromising dining room service.
Targeting the Right Customers Is the Key to Success
It won’t do you much good if you market gourmet food deliveries to hungry teenagers or pizza and burgers to well-heeled millionaires and socialites. Targeting the right customers for your cuisine is critical, but that might be an oversimplification if your food is special and different from the run-of-the-mill fast food offerings of most restaurants. That means you have to invest the time to know your ideal customers.
You might not even be getting your ideal type of customer for dine-in service – especially if your more profitable and/or more expensive items don’t sell well. It’s difficult to restructure an existing business because you don’t want to lose the customers that you have. Deliveries can expand your better menu items to a new clientele, and satisfied delivery customers will soon eat at the restaurant, which changes the demographic composition gradually. That’s a win-win scenario as you build a more lucrative customer base for both deliveries and in-house dining.
According to Joinposter.com, you can select just those items for food delivery that appeal to a specific audience. If your ad budget is limited, it’s important to find marketing platforms that reach your audience. Social media accumulate tons of demographic data that make it easy to target particular groups of people. For example, you can find hip, young urbanites who order meal delivery frequently and often follow culinary trends.
Once you’ve found good candidates who live near your restaurant, you can market deliveries cheaply by distributing flyers door-to-door or handing them out in the neighborhood. In fact, it’s an excellent way to use extra help when they’re not needed for internal operations.
You can build customer profiles from website-visitor analytics, stores of personal information about existing customers, social media demographics and business intelligence sources. One way to segment people for your marketing efforts is using the 5W method. This involves the who, what, when, where and why commonly used as a template in news stories:
Some neighborhoods are very heterogeneous, but others are true melting pots. Who are your potential customers, and why should they order from your restaurant? Young people with upscale tastes in food often live in modest neighborhoods and prefer to order delivery instead of dining out in restaurants. Some busy workaholics prefer to eat at home or the office most of the time. Many people have short lunch breaks and would rather have food delivered – if it’s on time. Busy two-income households often lack the time to prepare a nourishing meal during the week. Identifying whom to target is half the battle of building your delivery business.
What can you offer customers that other delivery services don’t? Do you offer speedy deliveries within a few blocks? Do you guarantee delivery within a specified time? What are the special qualities of your cuisine, snacks, breakfast items and lunch specials that would appeal to your ideal customer?
The when of delivery is often the deciding factor. Are lunch breaks too short in certain areas of town? Do busy people often skip breakfast in the morning and want to order something a little later? Are special events occurring at the restaurant or in the city? Can your restaurant provide a meal or a catered dinner for executives working late into the evening?
Where can you provide service? The restaurant location is your primary guide to where you can offer a delivery service. Trying to deal with areas too far away is an exercise in futility. You won’t be able to deliver food in a timely way. However, local office buildings, factories, retail establishments and nearby neighborhoods are all potential delivery areas. You might consider delivering food to a local park where people congregate to eat outdoors.
Why should your targeted prospects order from your restaurant? The answer will probably include a combination of factors: cuisine, price, convenience and atmosphere. Maybe you offer a full Italian meal for delivery, complete with Italian bread, olive oil for dipping and tiramisu. Maybe you offer late-night delivery of burgers and fast food. It’s important to match why with potential customers who appreciate the reasons why they should order from you.
Don’t Be Intimidated by Setting Up a Food Delivery Service
I’ll admit that I worried about deliveries, and there were problems. The biggest was server resentment because they didn’t like all the extra work. Ideally, you’ll do enough business to justify hiring extra help during peak delivery hours. You can make it mandatory for staff members and servers to work a shift or two each week processing deliveries at full pay. Fostering teamwork is also important so that the in-house staff is ready to pitch in when the delivery business gets overwhelming. Restaurants handle rushes every day, and your staff will soon become accustomed to their expanded duties.
Down and Dirty Tips for Delivering Fresh, Safe and Hot Food
The most important consideration for delivering food is food safety. One oversight can cause tremendous problems that include liability and permanent damage to your restaurant’s reputation. According to an article posted at Wasserstrom.com, It’s necessary to maintain hot and cold temperatures for food delivery in the safe zone to prevent bacterial growth. That reinforces the importance of delivering food quickly. It’s necessary to estimate how long chilled foods sit out. Other concerns include:
- The time food is held at the restaurant before being dispatched
- Whether to use a hot food cabinet and a cooler to keep food at proper temperatures
- Determining how each delivery driver stores food in the delivery vehicle, whether using in-house delivery or a third-party service
- Ensuring that salads and raw foods are carefully washed
Chipotle took quite a hit to its reputation and stock value after several cases of food poisoning caused by sourcing ingredients from Mexico, which doesn’t have the same level of regulation that the United States does. Keeping food safe is just a part of the overall restaurant experience, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in-house, offsite catering or food delivery. Taking a little extra time to ensure food safety is a necessary measure in all aspects of restaurant food preparation.
Delivery Myths and Supportive Statistics
Worries about food safety might convince you that delivery service is too much trouble, but an organized approach makes food safety easy to ensure. There are many myths about food delivery, but statistics show that it’s the cheapest and most effective way to increase business. Some of the common myths are blown away by statistical evidence:
- Delivery Systems Cost Too Much
Simple equipment repairs and maintenance cost more than setting up a food delivery system. You already have a system of preparing safe food for dining-in and carry-outs; you just have to make a few alterations to extend your service to food deliveries. According to Gloriafood.com, statistics show that online food orders for delivery have increased more than 300 percent over the last seven years. Deliveries are one of the cheapest ways to increase sales for restaurants with a limited seating capacity.
- The Return Isn’t Worth Disrupting Your Regular Business
The return on well-organized food deliveries can be phenomenal, and many restaurants consider deliveries a necessary service to remain competitive. According to statistics provided by Upserve.com, the following statistics show how important delivery service can be:
- About 60 percent of U.S. consumers report ordering delivery or takeout at least once a week.
- 31 percent of consumers use third-party deliveries at least twice a week.
- 57 percent of the millennial generation order food delivery to enjoy while watching movies and television.
- An astonishing 59 percent of millennials order takeout or delivery instead of dining out at restaurants.
- 33 percent of customers are willing to pay extra for faster delivery service.
- 34 percent of consumers spend $50 or more for each delivery order.
- Delivery Won’t Work for My Type of Restaurant
Statistics show that food delivery works for any type of restaurant – from neighborhood fast food places to fine dining establishments. According to Zionandzion.com research, the following study of multiple-restaurant delivery apps found that third-party delivery services were used by 41 percent of consumers within the last three months. Grubhub was used by 37.8 percent of multiple-restaurant delivery app customers, and UberEATS was used by 36 percent. DoorDash was used by 19.9 percent.
- Delivery Creates Too Many Administrative Problems
Using a third-party delivery service eliminates most of the administrative headaches. According to a white paper published by Learn,grubhub.com, a restaurant food delivery service can handle all the administrative details, such as hiring, paying and scheduling drivers, getting adequate insurance coverage and arranging suitable delivery vehicles. You just have to prepare the food as you normally do, but give a little extra attention to how it’s packaged.
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Marketing Your Fledgling Delivery Service
You’ll make mistakes, but that goes with any expansion of service. I took advantage of the local chamber of commerce, which allowed new members to send faxes to all the other members. My restaurant was located downtown, and it seemed like the ideal solution for reaching my target audience. I faxed my delivery flyer and a copy of my menu to everyone on the list. The strategy worked, but I received a number of complaints from people who charged that I was depleting the stock of ink in their fax machines in a way that should be criminal.
Those were the early days of digital marketing, and I thought the strategy was reasonable and couldn’t understand why these businesses didn’t check which faxes to print if they were worried about ink costs. Technology has since advanced, and there are dozens of paperless methods for marketing your delivery service without running afoul of irate fax owners.
Developing a Proprietary Ordering App
According to Engineerbabu.com, it’s increasingly easy to build your own app for ordering food delivery. That’s certainly the first thing I’d pursue if I opened another restaurant. The costs have dropped dramatically as the demand for apps continues to increase, and the tools for coding reduce development costs. You have greater control over customer service with your own app, and you can build your marketing database and scale up or down as needed.
It’s important to post your delivery menu on your website and social media pages. Making it easy to place an online order begins with your website, and today’s digital technology can ensure that orders are prepared correctly. It’s just as important to list all the options, which makes it easier to check the orders for accuracy.
Third-party Delivery Ordering
Getting listed with a third party delivery service, according to Forbes.com, has become increasingly important as a restaurant marketing tool. Multiple-restaurant apps make it easy for consumers to order from different restaurants when the mood strikes. There are more than 10 major food delivery companies in North America, which now account for one-third of the delivery market.
Some of the delivery services that you might want to partner with include:
There may also be local delivery services worth investigating. The increase in food deliveries is a worldwide trend, and China alone racked up more than $34 billion in online sales in 2018. Asian restaurants account for more than 55 percent of the global food delivery market.
Social Media Marketing
According to Pos.toasttab.com, more than 67 percent of restaurants in the United States plans to buy social media ads in 2019. About 53 percent of restaurants plan to promote their food in community events, which are ideal for gaining free social media publicity. Most restaurants use Facebook and Instagram where their customers can post photos of food and events. Social media are ideal platforms for posting your delivery menu and targeting the right audience.
Marketing Delivery Service in Multiple Forums
You can directly target different forums to market your delivery service. You should begin with your existing customers because they are predisposed to enjoy your food. Advertising on your website, mentioning delivery service in your menu, posting delivery information in-house and distributing flyers are shortcuts to gaining a quick pool of delivery prospects.
You should post your delivery information on your website, social media pages, and other forums. If you have a mailing list, sending out marketing messages is a good way to keep the delivery option uppermost in your customers’ minds.
You can reach new prospects by distributing flyers to nearby offices and homes and posting information on college, school and factory billboards.
Marketing Special Occasions and Standardized Box Lunches
If the prospect of preparing all your restaurant food for delivery seems problematic, you can still increase your sales by offering a limited menu for delivery. For example, box lunches simplify ordering and preparation, and half the items are stable items like chips, trail mix, packaged desserts, etc. These boxes can be prepared in advance and filled with some type of entree or sandwich when ordered. You can offer delivery of these boxed lunches with easier preparation.
You can also offer on-site deliveries for special events, such as family reunions in a local park, picnics on the beach or festival food deliveries. These deliveries can be quite lucrative while limiting any preparation difficulties.
Internal Restaurant Preparation
Preparing for delivery success takes some training and the right packaging materials. According to an article posted at Gourmetmarketing.net, your packaging should prevent spills and conserve the internal heat of hot foods. Cold foods should be packaged separately. Heat can be conserved with extra plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and other packaging materials.
Ideally, you should develop packaging that features your restaurant name, logo and the word “delivery” because your packages are free advertising of your service that might be seen by many likely prospects. Delivery services can cross-promote your restaurant and lead to more dine-in customers. If you plan to start small with in-house deliveries, be sure to limit your delivery area and market extensively in that area with flyers, posters and even guerrilla marketing campaigns.
According to Ezcater.com, you should have a concise message. For example, you might develop a guerrilla campaign in which a staff member hands out food samples and promotes delivery service for people on the go.
These kinds of campaigns to launch your delivery service can help enlist staff participation and support. It’s important to train staff on the new techniques for packing deliveries, and your staff can become your greatest resource for building up the delivery business. Suggestive selling in-house can include informing guests about the delivery options available to them.
It’s also a good idea to furnish your delivery drivers with some standard materials, such as condiments, extra napkins, etc. Customers do forget to order everything they want, and it helps if the driver carries some extras to deal with last-minute changes or food recipients who didn’t get a chance to specify what they wanted.
Exploring the Possibilities for Adding a Restaurant Delivery Service to Your Operation
There are many ways to offer deliveries. If your restaurant is in a busy downtown area, you might even consider foot or bicycle deliveries to nearby office buildings. Ignoring the delivery phenomenon puts your restaurant at a distinct competitive disadvantage, so you should carefully consider how you might offer full-service or limited-menu deliveries. On-demand labor makes it easy to schedule extra kitchen help, and third-party delivery services simplify the delivery process, so you can sell your fair share of the pie across expanded sales channels.
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