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.
Looking to streamline your off-premise business? Many restaurant industry experts are placing their bets on ghost kitchens as the future of the industry. They have their benefits: For small brands and large, these spaces can help ease labor and rent burdens, meet growing off-premise demand and help restaurants connect their food with customers quickly. On the negative side, restaurants with ghost kitchens are generally relying on (and paying) third-party providers to deliver food to customers, and in the absence of a front-of-house team, they may also encounter challenges in connecting customers with their brand – unless it’s already well established. As the ghost kitchen industry expands, various models are emerging. Check out this map of the landscape from Spoon to get a sense of where different providers and restaurants are building a presence – and where you might fit in.
If you think restaurant delivery is big now, there is more to come: The NPD Group said in 2019 that restaurant digital orders have grown at an average annual rate of 23 percent since 2013 and will triple in volume by the end of 2020. At the same time, consumers have yet to commit to one third-party delivery provider, so they are willing to accept promotions from the many companies angling for their business. If you offer delivery or are considering it, now is a good time to see how providing it through your own digital platform might work for you. Nation’s Restaurant News expects more brands to take this route in 2020 in an effort to build more permanent relationships with customers – all while maintaining control of data and avoiding third-party delivery fees. Physical restaurant structures are continuing to change as well, with more restaurants not just creating separate prep lines and pick-up windows, but investing in virtual kitchens and other satellite facilities in close proximity to delivery customers in an effort to compete for business. In fact, Michael Schaefer, Euromonitor global lead for food and beverage, recently told Restaurant Dive that virtual kitchens and drop-off points will be crucial to compete in the future of delivery.
As waste management continues to be a top priority for restaurant operators, news headlines appear every day about new technologies that can give companies in the food supply chain a leg up. In recent weeks, edible coatings and stickers for produce, as well as sachets that can be packed in crates of fruit, have all made news for their potential to significantly prolong the shelf life of produce and other fresh foods. Your suppliers will no doubt be adopting such technologies in an effort to compete in the marketplace, but there are a number of steps you can take right now in your business to make sure you’re making best use of the fresh products you buy. As Restaurant Owner & Manager advises, follow the first in, first out rule by adding a use-by date to new products you receive and then placing them behind older products in storage. Store food in airtight containers to help protect the hygiene of your products and minimize the potential for cross-contamination. Keep meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Ensure proper temperatures in both your refrigerator (40˚F or lower) and freezer (0˚F or lower) and have employees check those temperatures regularly. Finally, store food without overloading your storage areas and clean your shelving, equipment and storage units daily to prevent the buildup of contamination.
The single-use plastic toys that have long been associated with children’s meals at brands including Burger King and McDonald’s could soon be part of restaurant history. As the New York Times reported recently, Burger King has pledged to eliminate all non-biodegradable toys in its restaurants worldwide by 2025, and efforts are already underway in Britain to collect old toys from customers, then melt and recycle them into playground equipment and tray tables. While McDonald’s hasn’t gone that far as yet, it has scaled back its distribution of plastic toys in markets beyond the U.S. and has also launched an effort to reduce the impact of its toys. When you look at your brand, are there areas where you could be more environmentally friendly – with both your children’s meal giveaways and beyond? J. Ottman Consulting, an environmentally focused marketing firm, runs a community website called WeHateToWaste.com, where consumers can weigh in on how restaurants can adjust their practices to minimize waste and enhance their brand as it relates to the environment. For one, consumers see oversized portions as a waste and appreciate flexible (or shareable) portion choices and prices, which can also help broaden the appeal of a dish to seniors or other guests who are watching their diets or aren’t looking for large servings. Next, rethink any all-you-can-eat branding, which makes waste inevitable. If and when guests ask to take food home, make it easy for them by offering eco-friendly packaging that also includes instructions for reheating leftovers and keeping them fresh – or incentivize those who take the initiative to bring their own to-go containers. Your efforts may play a role in their decision to choose your restaurant over another.
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.
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.