The Delivery Dilemma

Whether it’s due to customers having more expendable income in the improving economy or less time to dedicate to meals, restaurant delivery traffic has grown by double digits in the past year in number of orders. While pizza still reigns supreme in the realm of delivery, orders of pies have fallen as third-party services like GrubHub and DoorDash have allowed consumers to branch out when they want to enjoy in-home dining. If your business is able to offer delivery or pair with a third-party delivery service for it, making that option available can drastically improve your bottom line.

Delivery Companies

As demand for delivery grows faster than restaurants can individually respond to it, third-party delivery companies have stepped in, often to the dismay of the restaurants they deliver from. These services, like Postmates, will place an order and pick it up on behalf of the customer, then deliver it to the customer, all without the restaurant ever knowing that they are serving a middleman as opposed to the actual customer. Some restaurants, whose proprietors may have made a purposeful decision to not embrace delivery to lessen the strain on their kitchen or because their food would not hold up well under delivery conditions, don’t appreciate that decision being taken out of their hands.

The lack of quality control between restaurant and delivery means that some meals show up cold or soggy, leading to upset customers posting poor reviews on Yelp or other sites – for the restaurant, not the delivery service. Some restaurateurs, like Seattle’s David Meinert, fear eventual food poisoning cases.

“What if someone gets food poisoning? Who’s responsible?” Meinert said in a recent Eater article on one delivery firm. “Postmates takes away our quality control and potentially endangers our customers.”

Customer tweet to Postmates

On the flip side, restaurants that have embraced the trend by partnering with delivery services have seen a marked increase in sales. Some services, like Grubhub and Eat24, are more of an ordering service, offering a way for customers to place delivery orders easily online, at which point the restaurant takes over to make and deliver the food, streamlining the ordering process and reducing steps the restaurant has to take to process an order. Others, like UberEats or Amazon Prime Now, will actually pick up the food and deliver it directly to the customer. All of these programs require that a restaurant become a partner before delivering their food, but Postmate’s restaurant selection is instead generated by the end-users, with the restaurants often not even knowing that their food is going out for delivery. However, Postmate does offer a Merchant Program that gives restaurant owners some control over how their food is promoted on the app.

In-House Delivery Programs

There are some definite benefits to developing a delivery program yourself, the biggest one being that you get to keep all the profits instead of cutting some out to pay a company acting as the middleman. Doing your own delivery also means you can control which menu items are available for delivery, as well as how they are packaged and transported. This helps ensure that food arrives in a timely manner and in a way that maintains the integrity and safety of the meal.

Setting up your own delivery program will require an initial investment in a delivery employee at the very least, but you may also find you need additional kitchen staff to keep up with the new volume of orders. If you want to make ordering available online, you can partner with a program like Grubhub or develop an ordering program within your existing website. While a delivery fee on each order can help offset your delivery costs, be wary of overdoing it, lest you scare off too many potential customers. One industry survey found the average ‘reasonable’ charge to be $3.35, while most customers wouldn’t consider paying more than $4.74.

You will also need to make sure you have all the delivery supplies you need before your program goes live. This can include delivery bags or insulated food carriers to help maintain food-safe temperatures. Determining your delivery radius can help you decide how you will get the food to customers. If you will have a large delivery radius or are serving a more rural area, you may hire drivers willing to put lit toppers or magnetic door decals on their personal vehicles. If you’re in an urban area, you may find success with bikes, which can take advantage of bike trailers to increase delivery capacity and offer an opportunity for advertising.

The Future of Delivery

As delivery trends continue to show ever-growing numbers, innovative companies are working to improve the future of restaurant delivery. Some trends to keep an eye on include:

  • Self-driving robots and self-guided drones are currently being tested in food delivery applications. The robots are being tested by food delivery company Just Eat in central London. The drones, built by Google parent company Alphabet, are being tested delivering Chipotle burritos to college students at Virginia Tech.
  • Meal kits, brought to popularity by companies such as Blue Apron, are now being offered by some restaurants. Instead of targeting those in a hurry, these kits are aimed at home cooks who want to simplify the shopping-and-cooking process.
  • Delivery-only restaurants are popping up, mostly in large cities, to take advantage of low-cost real estate while serving the growing demand for delivery options. Even high-profile chefs like David Chang of Momofuku are getting in on delivery-only concepts, lending credibility to the trend.
Courtney Barkley
Courtney Barkley

Courtney Barkley has lived in nearly as many southeastern states as most Americans have probably visited, settling in East Tennessee in early 2013. She and her husband Thomas were married during ShadoCon 2012 – an anime, gaming, and comics convention – in a ceremony that featured a reading about dinosaurs in love from a friend dressed as Doctor Who. She spends her free time chasing her brilliant and imaginative son Nathan, hanging out with friends, binge-watching shows, playing video games, and keeping up with the characters of the Marvel Universe. And, any chance she gets, she sneaks off to Florida to visit friends and the happiest place on earth – Disney World.

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