As the coronavirus has spread and restaurants have had to transition to a takeout-only model, what are restaurants to do to protect themselves and the customers they serve – and to somehow keep business coming in? Despite the many tech advances that have swept the industry, restaurants – until very recently – have been social places where people are on the front lines. A recent Restaurant Business report, which includes advice from a law firm specializing in employment issues, advises clear communication with employees in several areas: share your plan with them (and make sure it covers employee concerns such as your sick leave policy and your plan of operation during school closures) and provide training to ensure everyone knows what procedures to follow if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are diagnosed with it. Day to day, increase your efforts to sanitize door handles and kitchen and bathroom surfaces more often. Some operators are placing hand sanitizer at their building entrances, as well as outside the restroom and at stations in the back of the house. And while delivery was once considered a nice-to-have service, it’s now critical. Even if you don’t currently offer mobile ordering tech, now is the time to adjust your menu and offer a simple takeout menu that can be picked up outside of your establishment or dropped off outside a customer’s door for contactless delivery. Right now food delivery is considered a public service for people who are elderly, vulnerable and isolated, so promote on social media and to neighborhood news groups that you are open and ready to help, and provide your menu and contact information. Finally, encourage people to pick up the phone and call you – it’s old-fashioned but people are missing the social connections that restaurants have long been able to provide. You can provide a valuable way for people maintain those community ties as the industry pulls through this time of uncertainty.
When it comes to restaurant food delivery, the numbers don’t often add up – for the operator, the customer or even the third-party delivery company. A recent New York Times report found in a survey of GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats – the four largest third-party delivery apps in the U.S. – that customers were paying as much as 91 percent more for food delivered via these apps. In the meantime, operators are trying to carve out razor-thin profits from delivery orders and delivery companies are struggling to make money in a sea of competition. But since off-premise demand continues to climb and restaurants are adjusting their sales models and even their physical structures to accommodate it, how can operators make the costs easier to swallow for both customers and themselves? Offering delivery by hiring in-house couriers can help, though it isn’t necessarily feasible for everyone. A Restaurant Dive report says industry analysts predict restaurants will adjust prices, use virtual kitchens, adopt their own branded platforms or renegotiate their commission rates with third-party delivery companies in an effort to get ahead. Renegotiation may come in the form of changes in sales structure too: Technomic says a key way that providers are evolving right now is by offering delivery subscriptions – all-inclusive delivery for a monthly fee, as well as delivery discounts for loyal customers – incentives that can come directly from restaurants too.
The investment bank UBS recently called online food delivery “a mega trend that looks to grow tenfold over the next decade.” As the demand for off-premise food continues to boom, many operators have treated it as a must-have – even if it means losing profits and the ability to market directly to customers. But increasingly, operators are embracing more of a hybrid delivery strategy, which may appeal to those who don’t want to miss out on the business opportunities that delivery can provide but do want to maintain control over key aspects of it. As Restaurant Dive reports, there are several ways to create a hybrid delivery strategy that meshes with your key sales priorities – and a growing number of providers are accommodating them. Concerned about quality control or ensuring you meet delivery time targets? Having third-party providers process orders and keeping drivers in-house may be your best route. Not sure of your best path to delivery – or want to build a temporary bridge that holds you until you’re ready to provide in-house delivery down the line? The Greek chain Taziki’s is testing both delivery with its own drivers and third-party delivery through Waitr (which offered a path to integrating into its system and allowed the restaurant to continue marketing to its customers directly). Corner Bakery, in yet another variation, relies on its own fleet for larger catering orders but third parties for the delivery of individual orders. Receiving orders directly via your website or app (while retaining your customers’ information) and then farming them out to third parties for delivery may also be an option in your area. Olo is one such provider. Above all, research your customer base and available providers to best understand what your customers value versus what you and third parties can offer – and what you do best.
Many restaurant brands tend to look to millennials for hints of where foodservice trends may be heading, particularly when it comes to off-premise sales. But some recent research completed on behalf of the National Restaurant Association demonstrates that baby boomers are showing traits that operators would be wise to watch when it comes to offering food for take-out and delivery. Research conducted for the association found that 51 percent of boomers, which it defined as consumers between the ages of 55 and 73, say they aren’t ordering takeout and delivery as often as they would like. In comparison, 43 percent of millennials, consumers aged 21 to 38, shared that feeling. The data found that millennials are just about as eager to eat at a restaurant as they are to eat restaurant meals off-premise, while baby boomers are less likely to want to eat at restaurants more often – only 38 percent expressed that preference. If you’d like to fine-tune your efforts to market to boomers, consider several tactics: Provide a fair price and promote the value of your menu, since a majority of boomers will choose a restaurant based on its perceived value. Expand your breakfast menu options. Offer healthy menu choices with quality ingredients and make healthier items readily identifiable on your menu. Create new twists on classic dishes. Experiment with ethnic spices and dishes with bold flavors. Finally, when it comes to technology, offer tech-driven, mobile-friendly ordering functionality and loyalty programs that make it easy to not only place off-premise orders but also to reap rewards for continuing to order with you.
Food packaging technology is evolving so fast that it’s making plastic cutlery seem almost quaint. A startup called Planeteer LLC, for example, has taken on the challenge of packaging waste and developed a variety of cutlery that isn’t merely compostable but also edible. The company has created a spoon that it promises will hold its shape for 25 minutes in hot soup and 50 minutes in a cold dessert, The Spoon reports. Planeteer cofounder Dinesh Tadepalli said it is vegan, all-natural, rich in protein and composts in days if not consumed. The company will be presenting its product at the Smart Kitchen Summit’s Future Food Competition in October.
This fall, a sweeping bill is likely going to be introduced in Congress that will ban many single-use plastics, set recycling targets and require deposits for beverage containers, the National Restaurant Association reports. In response to the legislation, the association’s food and sustainability director has emphasized the lack of existing national infrastructure to support such a ban – and the stress that could cause businesses forced to comply. Regardless of whether the legislation passes, the global climate activism on display in recent weeks is a sign that the issue of how restaurants manage their packaging waste (and the need for restaurants to understand new packaging technologies) isn’t going away. If you’re looking for ways to improve your practices, the Food Packaging Institute is working with its members, foodservice operators and other entities to share packaging options and has also developed a strategic sourcing guide to help restaurants identify new suppliers.
The ownership of consumer data has long been a stumbling block for operators considering the hiring of third-party delivery providers, but increasingly, competition in the industry is making it possible for restaurant brands to cherry-pick the options they want from providers. There are several recent cases in point: GrubHub won Shake Shack’s business nationwide by offering to share customer data. Panera has made it possible for customers to place orders via Uber Eats, DoorDash or GrubHub and then have food delivered by its in-house team. Most recently, Chowly did just the opposite. The company said its system now allows restaurant operators to accept orders through its website or app, then farm them out for delivery via DoorDash. It’s an additional sign that for brands eager to make food delivery work, there may be wiggle room when negotiating contracts with vendors.
Much like how once-ubiquitous plastic grocery bags are now becoming obsolete, could food delivery packaging be following suit? There are signs pointing in that direction. The global food delivery company Deliveroo is partnering with the environmental group RETURNR to enable its customers in Australia to order their delivered food in reusable containers, according to a report in The Food People. For a $6 fee, customers can receive their food in a reusable stainless-steel container that can be returned to participating locations for a refund.
If you’ve ever experienced the disappointment of ordering French fries or a salad for delivery only to receive them in limp, soggy form once they’ve been packaged and transported to you, Bill Birgen feels your pain. A popular speaker at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit and winner of the SKS Startup Showcase, Birgin has developed technology designed to manage the condensation that can collect in delivery packaging and make certain foods unpalatable as a result. The goal of the packaging, dubbed the SAVR-pak, is to both improve food quality and reduce food waste. While it’s still early, the Spoon reports that the SAVR-pak has gotten the attention of Deliveroo, who has placed a purchase order, as well as a number of resorts.
As delivery ramps up, are drive thrus on the way out? Minneapolis may have set a precedent recently by banning the construction of new drive thrus in the name of health and safety: The city wants to cut back on vehicle noise, idling and traffic and make sidewalks safer for pedestrians. Existing drive thrus in the city will remain intact, however.