A commenter on a recent review, one in which I lamented a lack of parking and a small dining area even as I praised the food, made a succinct point: They need to offer delivery.
More and more restaurants are doing just that. And it doesn’t always mean hiring a dedicated driver to make repeated trips back and forth, the business model that most pizza joints have been using since ancient times.
More often, restaurant owners only need to contract with a third party delivery service, one that might be taking hot meals to hungry customers from dozens of restaurants throughout the city. And sometimes the owners don’t even have to have a formal arrangement with a third party for their food to find its way through the dining room, out the front door and on to hungry nonguests. (That’s a model that can have serious brand management issues, but I’ll come back to that.)
Today, with services like Doorstep Delivery and GrubHub, restaurants can offer delivery of their menu items by people who aren’t on the payroll. Customers can peruse multiple menus online or via smartphone apps and place an order without ever hearing the words, “Hi, my name is Chad and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”
This concept isn’t new. Twenty or so years ago, it was common to walk into a restaurant, especially those in the tourist sector, and see a rack with small printed booklets with page after page of restaurant menus that one could order a meal from. But the companies that offered those early delivery services from full service restaurants were ahead of their time, before smartphones were invented and even before the surge of the internet when “You’ve got mail” became part of our daily routines. Talk about ancient times. Orders were actually placed by phone calls! Most of those services didn’t last.
Today, Orlando based Doorstep Delivery has grown to represent hundreds of restaurants with everything from barbecue to sushi. The diversity of food makes its own challenge: not everything can be placed in a hot box or the insulated envelopes that have become standard for pizza deliveries. And sushi probably shouldn’t be left on the back seat of a car for too long. Third party deliverers like Doorstep place the onus on the restaurants to package the food properly. Still, if something goes wrong and the food isn’t delivered properly, the two entities will likely work together to make it right — that’s an agreement they have when the restaurant signs up with a delivery service.
But what if a restaurant doesn’t have a contract with a delivery service but their food is being picked up and delivered anyway? That’s the inevitable next step in the so-called gig economy that has brought us Uber and Airbnb. If you have a favorite restaurant that offers takeout but not delivery, one of these new companies — DoorDash is one, though not yet available in Central Florida — will place the order, pick it up and bring it to you, the restaurants none the wiser.
Until, of course, they start hearing from dissatisfied customers who aren’t always aware that the delivery service isn’t officially representing the restaurant. Suddenly negative reviews about poor delivery service start showing up under the restaurant’s name.
Pricing can be an issue, too. A third party service without a written agreement might show a restaurant’s prices higher than in-house dining. That’s not to be unexpected — these services make money on added fees and delivery charges. But with a formal agreement a restaurant can insist on transparency and better representation of how the service is being paid for.
No doubt that the dining public is becoming more interested in dining in the privacy of their own homes. The delivery services will likely thrive and there will be more competition. Ease of use, reliability, and the ability to deliver food in a form a close to the way it was meant to be enjoyed if eaten at the restaurant will be key to their longevity.
Do you use any of the delivery services in the area? Restaurateurs, how do you feel about the rise in takeout demand, and is there a service you feel confident to delivery your food? Leave a comment below.