Third-party delivery apps have their benefits: Your restaurant may gain access to a more streamlined ordering interface that customers demand, as well as much-needed brand exposure. Unfortunately, you are likely paying dearly in exchange. But you don’t have to commit to one approach. You might diversify your business, with a small portion of your delivery going through a third-party app and the majority going through a white-label delivery platform – GoParrot is one example – that charges a flat fee for an ordering technology setup customized to your brand. It could be a way to offer guests a streamlined ordering process, retain your customer data and also gain the benefits of exposure on a third-party app.
Independent restaurants have been in an especially tough position throughout the pandemic, lacking much of the resources and scale of a multi-business organization while also being hardest hit by the commission fees of third-party delivery companies. But as a result, independents are emerging as a segment of the restaurant industry that is ripe for innovation. Business at BentoBox, which helps restaurants build more robust, ecommerce-ready websites, has been booming since the pandemic started. It focuses on helping restaurants harness their customer data – and it has nearly doubled its client list in recent months. Grubhub, in addition, just launched a new web offering aimed at independent restaurants that includes a branded website, as well as the ability to create loyalty programs and promotions, process and manage orders, and view customer names, email addresses and past orders. The company says it is waiving its one-time setup fee for a year and will charge restaurants a $49 hosting fee per month, per location. Then there’s the commission fee if the restaurant opts to use Grubhub for last-mile delivery. Still, it may make sense for restaurants looking for a quick means of updating technology and offering delivery without sacrificing access to data.
What’s the best way for you to get take-away food to your customers? As operators adjust to new, late-pandemic conditions – including a lack of available labor and an increase in potential vendors and tech-driven solutions to provide support – they are making changes to how they handle delivery. Panera, long held up as an example of how a non-pizza restaurant can accommodate in-house delivery, recently announced it would be switching to third-party delivery – at least for now. In the meantime, the food delivery robot is becoming a far less futuristic concept than it ever was, with companies including Nuro, Kiwibot, Tortoise and Starship Technologies rolling out options for last-mile delivery. Those robots also happen to relieve some of restaurants’ labor, food safety, marketing and profitability pressures, so they could make the delivery landscape look a whole lot different in the coming months and years.
Name a restaurant challenge and there is likely technology in existence or in development that can address it in some way. One bright side to the pandemic has been the urgency with which these developments are coming to market to keep restaurants in business – either directly or indirectly. One recent example is a site called NotGrubhub.org, which was launched by a food-tech entrepreneur earlier this year. The Los Angeles Times reports that the map-based website points customers to restaurants that take food orders directly. It was designed to bypass third-party food delivery apps that can charge up to 20 percent in commissions or marketing fees from restaurants in Los Angeles – and in effect, carve into restaurants’ already-slim margins. Even if such a service isn’t available where you are, the site is helpful in building consumer awareness about where their money is going, as well as highlighting restaurants’ need for customers to come directly to them when possible.
Preparing food in restaurants has become a juggling act this year – with people behind the scenes regularly throwing new balls into the air. According to a Datassential report, 92 percent of restaurant traffic is now off-premise. Drive-thru orders represent the largest growth category, followed by 23 percent order-ahead, 21 percent delivery and 18 percent to-go. A seemingly quiet kitchen could actually be as busy as a restaurant with a line of customers out the front door. This year, more restaurants will be adopting tools that allow them to monitor the various ways in which orders are coming to them – and adapt more easily to their ebb and flow. A new report on restaurant technology trends to watch in 2021 says smart scheduling and booking technology, as well as automated kitchen operations technology, can help ensure food is ready when customers want it.
Your customers’ preferences are what keep them coming back to you – and are what tell you what items to promote to whom and when. Restaurants often lose ownership of that critical data when partnering with third-party delivery companies, but they may be able to find more ways around that this year. Industry analysts are seeing potential for a rise in unbranded delivery partnerships with restaurants in 2021. In practice, this means customers would have to visit a restaurant’s website to place an order and access delivery – at which point the third-party delivery is triggered on the back end. It takes delivery off of a restaurant’s shoulders but also ensures it retains the customer information that can help them formulate their sales and marketing plans.
Food subscriptions are on the rise for everything from coffee to donuts to ice cream. More than one-third of Americans say they will increase the number of subscription services they use – and more restaurant operators are embracing them as an additional income stream that can help sustain sales during an uncertain time. Now technology has come to market that can help operators create and manage their own subscription programs. Paytronix, for one, is now offering a platform that includes customer targeting to help boost signups, as well as tracking recurring payments, automating messaging for reminders and managing rewards to help build loyalty.
By 2021, almost 50 million people will be using food delivery apps. It’s a good time to understand how people are using your mobile app if you have one. Placing an order may be only one part of it. According to The Rail, while 32 percent of restaurant mobile app users are using them to order food, even more – 42 percent – are looking for information on coupons or other deals. Close behind are those looking up your restaurant’s menu (38 percent) or searching for local food options (37 percent). These figures may change how you go about attracting people to your app – or in how you prioritize updating the information on it. Consider push notifications when you’re running promotions to encourage customers to begin earning rewards. Understand – and continue to ask customers to confirm – which rewards appeal most to them. As for your menu and local profile, make sure your information and menu are up to date on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google My Business.
At a time when restaurant delivery has become critical for so many restaurants (even pre-COVID-19, off-premise orders were accounting for nearly 60 percent of foodservice occasions, according to the National Restaurant Association), new technologies that offer operators more control and monitoring of the delivery process are on the rise. They may help you zero in on the areas that need improvement and can help set you apart among competitors. Food delivery analytics software like ActiveDeliver, for example, pulls together onto a single dashboard data such as sales metrics that extract total sales for in-store, drive-thru and delivery customers, delivery metrics that illustrate trends in driver wait and travel times, customer analytics that track sales by new and existing customers and whether customer satisfaction is driven by specific menu items or delivery times, and a breakdown of food delivery fees and who is paying them. Whether you use technology designed to monitor your delivery or not, using your POS data to understand (and improve upon) the lifecycle of the delivery process will become increasingly important as you accommodate more off-premise sales right now.
In case it wasn’t already clear pre-pandemic, off-premise dining isn’t going anywhere. Since third-party ordering poses ample challenges for operators it’s important to entice customers to order directly from you. Have you thought about how to encourage them to do that in the coming months? You might try incentives like filling every takeout order with a coupon good for a discount off their first direct online order from you, or offering some extra value for signing up for your in-house app (if you want to build your own ordering app, here is one option that may help https://bit.ly/36maBNz). Beyond that, make it as easy as possible for customers to order from you directly. Ensure your business information is accurate and up-to-date – particularly with adjusted hours – on Google. Your ordering button and menu links should be visible as soon as someone loads your webpage. Toast also suggests you find ways to simply make it more interesting to come to you directly – from including a personal thank-you note or small Instagrammable memento in each takeout bag, to selling special merchandise, to offering rotating promotions like Taco Tuesday to-go packages or EBTV (Everything But the Vodka) take-home Bloody Mary kits.