1,700,000,000 meals in U.S. are ordered online for delivery every year.
1.7 billion. And it’s only projected to grow, as the youngest adults in America order 56 percent of total restaurant delivery, service that 29 percent of millennials have taken advantage of in the last week alone.
Today, it is estimated that more than three out of every five restaurant tickets overall are for outside consumption — delivery or take-out — although that phenomenon represents only 16 percent of casual restaurant purchases. Obviously quick service and fast casual make up a large bulk of the business, but even at roughly 1 in 6 purchases, the experience and economics of to-go orders needs to be a significant part of every restaurant’s operational strategy.
So why is the restaurant delivery trend growing so rapidly? Changing work environments, for one. 43 percent of employed Americans report that they spend some time working remotely, with instances of multiple-day working-from-home rising significantly. With that shift away from working in an office five days a week, maintaining lunch business near commercial areas has become a challenge for restaurateurs. Technology, however, is one way to win that business back.
48 percent of restaurant delivery orders are now coming from an app or website, platforms that provide quick and easy order completion, without having to change out of sweatpants or pajamas. In fact, research is showing that orders placed remotely through a business’s own website or a restaurant delivery service are ranking higher in customer satisfaction and producing higher check averages per person. Simply put, consumers having their meals delivered after an online interaction are spending more.
Which makes sense. No one is standing in front of you at a counter waiting for you to make up your mind or perceived as judging your choices. The anonymity of the app or website experience, combined with the technological savvy of those drawn to using online ordering are two major factors behind it becoming the fastest growing segment of restaurant industry — with twice as much growth as next fastest.
Ultimately, something else has changed among restaurant consumers that makes delivery a more precarious endeavor than ever before, despite its huge potential for contributing to your bottom line. People want quality food and speed of service with every restaurant experience, in or out of your building. It’s no longer one or the other. They expect the food that arrives at their door to be a strong approximation of what they would get with an eat-in visit, and that expectation is not going away.
With that in mind, here are six quick factors to consider in maintaining, expanding, or minimizing your restaurant delivery service — three challenges to your existing business and three advantages to your bottom line.
Challenge #1: Maintaining integrity
Being able to keep food presentable as it leaves your location — and your immediate control — is a major challenge for most restaurants, particularly given the rigors of car travel, traffic, and the potential for delay in eating. Keeping it hot (or cold, as the case may be) is even more difficult. And that dilemma in particular opens up a lot of questions about food safety that your business needs to address immediately and without fail. If a dish simply can’t survive the trip and match its dining room counterpart, don’t offer it for delivery.
Training your staff on proper packaging procedures — keeping hot and cold dishes in separate bags and making sure one dish doesn’t end up crushing another — is half the battle on what you do send out the door. The other half is investing in containers for take-out and delivery that are sturdy and secure enough to make the trip.
Your customer service must remain as high quality for outside guests as well. This means being super responsive to complaints, managing orders as efficiently as you would when receiving them from your servers, and setting expectations on timing that you can meet every time. Putting as much thought and time into hiring delivery drivers as you would servers is an important step in this process. If a customer orders digitally, they are the only human ambassadors for your brand that guest will meet. Those impressions count.
Challenge #2: Exposure from third party services
Unfortunately, whether you know it or not, you may not be fully in control of that brand impression during the delivery process. The rise of the third party restaurant delivery service has been a boon to many restaurateurs’ operations, but what happens when you didn’t even hire one — and they’re delivering your food anyway?
Believe it or not, there are third party services, particularly ones just getting off the ground, that may be placing orders on behalf of customers and acting as an invisible middle man. If you think there are people delivering without permission, how do you know? How do you address it? Every restaurateur wants to protect their reputation, but we also have to consider the risk to your consumers. The liability to you if a third party breaches food safety parameters, hurts a customer, or damages customer property is enormous.
Keep an eye on complaints coming in from customers that you can’t track to an in-house delivery order number, and have your managers keep an eye out for oddly frequent, but inconsistent orders from the same patron, particularly if they seem perpetually in a rush.
Challenge #3: Adjusting for bottlenecks
With every business model change, operational adjustments must come with it. It’s inevitable that rising delivery orders may produce conflict in your kitchen if you’re not set-up to account for the different needs. Having a distinct staging area for delivery or take-out, and — if business warrants it — an entirely separate line for food preparation can eliminate bottlenecks and keep both sides of your business running smoothly. There will be a cost to these changes to your back of house, but…
Advantage #1: Opening up new revenue streams
The financial advantages of expanding restaurant delivery service often outweigh the costs. In fact, in certain segments, like pizza restaurants for instance, delivery can be such a boon that otherwise failing businesses end up with a new lease on life simply from opening up that additional revenue stream.
Look at your competitors, both in your segment and not, to see how their delivery and take-out functions. If you are seeing fast casual restaurants pick up speed in your area, even if you are casual or upscale casual, you may need to adopt some of their best practices to compete effectively for customers — especially if your area is experiencing the type of flat growth we’re seeing nationally this year.
Advantage #2: Accounting for changing consumer habits
With the statistics laid out earlier, it’s critical to understand one thing: traditional forms of engaging with restaurants are expanding, and consumers have expectations you can either choose to meet… or not.
But for customers 35 and under, you may not be on their radar if you don’t offer restaurant delivery — service they have come to expect across the board. Staying ahead of that curve and succeeding at it is a sure way to keep developing the business you’ve put your heart and soul into, and to please the customers that will then be loyal to you for years to come.
Advantage #3: Expanding your brand
By opening up your restaurant to delivery and to-go meals, you are effectively sending your brand out into the world, reaching customers who may never have walked through your doors otherwise. Your presence on a delivery app or websites like Rewards Network and Yelp helps you reach millions of eyes you can’t get from just a casual drive-by.
But there’s also rudimentary branding that works for you. Your logo, name, address, and telephone number gets delivered into your customers’ homes by way of bags, napkins, menus, and/or packaging, reinforcing your brand in their minds for the next time they want to order in.
Mastering the art of restaurant delivery can open a lot of doors for your business that wouldn’t otherwise be available to you. The key is, as always, to make sure you do it well.
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