How to optimize restaurant takeout and delivery for success and profitability

During the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have become one of the most vulnerable business sectors. From Michelin-starred dining rooms to the cozy corner cafes, every establishment has been affected in some way.

David Chang’s Momofuku has permanently closed three of its restaurants. Paris Bar and Lucky Strike in New York have downed the shutters too. So has the award-winning vegan restaurant Barrio Café Gran Reserva in Arizona and 102-year-old New Orleans French fine-dining institution Arnaud’s.

The most adaptable restaurants, however, have pivoted to online ordering and delivery and continue to weather the storm.

According to the National Restaurant Association, customers have placed steady orders from restaurants even during the lockdown and as per a Yelp report, the demand for delivery has increased 135 times with coronavirus. Not that each one of these places is making large profits, but managing to stay open in these trying times is still a huge feat.

There’s looming uncertainty surrounding the current global health crisis. The only certainty perhaps is that the world as we knew it will most likely never return as the global outbreak leaves a deep-rooted impact on all aspects of our lives. As we stand poised to enter the next normal, restaurants must access their operations to meet the demands of a post-COVID-19 world, which will be highly centered on online delivery.

The primary reason for this is because customer behavior and eating habits are increasingly shifting towards eat-ins and becoming less favorable towards social dining. The fear of virus transmission through human and surface contact will have an enduring effect on people’s psyche.

These are some comprehensive tips on how restaurants can optimize for delivery services as customer demand inevitably surges in the near future.

Dive into Menu Engineering

One of the first things to do when planning for online delivery is to redraft your menu. The bestsellers in a physical dining room may not acquire the same fan following when dining at home. In an interview with Restaurant Business, Tad Low, director of off-premise for the fast-casual chain Moe’s Southwest Grill revealed that their customer favorite shareable bowls of queso was a disaster when it came to deliveries. However, when delivered in smaller cups, the same dish not only packaged and traveled well but also increased the check.

When it comes to online menus, there has to be a lot of pragmatism. Concerns like temperature change and spilling during travel must be looked into and even take precedence over things like presentation. Such mishaps might cause the delivery agents to touch the food in order to repackage. Tamper-proof packaging is a solution but it needs to be reinforced by creating a menu that travels well.

Create a balanced pricing strategy

It is no secret that restaurants work with razor-thin margins. And this is one of the reasons why the case against third-party aggregators and their enormous commissions becomes more valid than ever. But even when restaurants have their own in-house delivery, they still have to make some tweaks to the regular pricing by taking cost of delivery, including packaging materials, staff salary, fuel charges etc. into consideration.

On average, restaurants tend to price delivery items 10% to 15% higher. But the best strategy is to test different price points over time before finalizing on the ideal one.

Perfect the delivery process

It goes without saying that if you’re optimizing your restaurant for delivery-only, the delivery service itself must be flawless. Right from a seamless ordering app or website to quick and efficient delivery at the customer’s doorstep, every step of the process must function like clockwork. Speed and convenience are both defining factors for any delivery service and these must not be compromised at any point.

Having a delivery tracking system could be of advantage in areas like route optimization for drivers, updating deliveries, proof of delivery, vehicle maintenance, and status, real-time communication, integration with other restaurant systems, etc., This boosts transparency, accountability, communication, and productivity.

Contactless delivery is set to gain much more prominence with time, so this must be a mandatory implementation. Technological innovations like drones and robots are also making a mark in this area. So keep up with all the new offerings which could help enhance your restaurant’s delivery service.

Contactless payments are a necessity

Cash and credit cards, which require surface contact and hand-to-hand exchange will probably become obsolete in the future, or at least have diminished use. This, again, comes from the anxiety that consumers have developed due to the coronavirus situation at present.

Contactless payments like ApplePay and SamsungPay were already being widely used pre-pandemic. But restaurants still need to be on the toes about all the new contactless payment developments and seek to provide as diverse a payment method as possible for customers ordering online.

Tipping through cash to delivery agents should be also discouraged and customers urged to adopt new digital methods. PayPal recently announced a touches payment service via QR codes. This could be one option of tipping without contact.

Optimize the kitchen for delivery orders

As restaurants prepare for delivery-only, they also need to plan how they optimize their kitchen for efficiency. The backend spaces and workflows determine your ability to handle orders, especially when there’s increased volume.

After the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting impact, it has also become extremely important to have a workplace that allows higher standards of safety for employees. Measures for social distancing may not be as stringent after the pandemic has been restrained, but some form of distancing among workers might be a required guideline from authorities. Additionally, when planning the physical space, restaurants can also think of an ancillary area for things like curbside pickups. If you do intend on having curtsied pickup, you can also look at investing in equipment like temperature-controlled storage lockers to make sure the food is still in impeccable condition when customers pick them up.

Take care of your staff

The restrictive measures imposed to curb the transmission of coronavirus has resulted in eight million restaurant workers being laid off or furloughed in the U.S. In order to have an efficient online delivery service, it is crucial to take care of your staff by protecting them against similar distress situation. Having a secure financial safety net for the workers is something the stakeholders of the industry need to come together and initiate, especially in light of the present scenario.

In terms of health and safety, innovations are being developed which will double the safety measures for restaurant staff. Ford is testing a wearable tech called proximity bracelet which buzzes if employees working in a room get too close to each other. It seems to be particularly useful for delivery agents because the data stored by the device can be used to inform people the delivery staff had come in close contact with in case he becomes infected. Heat detection sensors that automatically identify elevated body temperature in employees are also in the offing.

Let them know you follow safety standards

It cannot be stressed enough that customer behavior, influenced by the COVID-19 crisis will have an enduring effect and that restaurants must start taking note of these shifts. One of the most unmistakable traits will be their heightened concern for safety procedures followed during the preparation of the meals they’ve ordered.

Customers will also have a greater affinity for healthier food and drinks, preferably sourced from local organic farms. Whenever there is a health emergency, consumers naturally turn towards disease prevention and enhancing physical condition.

This calls for restaurants to elevate their safety standards at every level. Give priority to local vendors and community-supported agriculture while sourcing ingredients, clean and disinfect the kitchen surfaces more frequently, have strict guidelines for staff regarding hygiene regimes, equip your delivery staff with requisite safety gear, gloves, and hand sanitizers being the most basic among them. Stay in the loop about any health and safety guidelines from authorities.

Reevaluate marketing strategies

From a marketing point of view, restaurants should again adopt a digital-first approach by giving prominence to online gift cards, digital loyalty programs, and social media. Loyalty programs are becoming more sophisticated these days. For instance, tech companies like Punchh have been offering an effective AI-driven customized loyalty program for both online and offline channels. They use real-time data from online reviews and convert these customer sentiments into quantifiable metrics for personalized and targeted marketing. Digital loyalty programs have, therefore, become highly interactive and intuitive these days.

During the coronavirus outbreak, brands adopted social media platforms to convey updates and information, mostly about operational changes. This can continue in the future as well. However, any promotional and marketing messages need to be well thought through, without sounding too tone-deaf because people will just be emerging from a crisis that was both physically and emotionally taxing. Having creative and community-focused solutions to delivery will also help brands gain traction among customers.

In conclusion, online-delivery is the definite future, but optimizing for delivery-only in a post-COVID-19 world requires some thorough and all-round pre-planning, all the while keeping safety measures in mind because the experiences from the current state of affairs will outlive COVID-19.