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Protecting a restaurant brand while engaging 3rd party delivery-service providers

How can restaurants make sure their brands are well represented while they work with third party delivery-service providers?

The culture of convenience has spoken. Consumers are increasingly looking for ways to enjoy prepared foods and restaurant meals in the comfort of their own homes and their places of work. Restaurant chains have focused on delivery and takeout as a way to capture the upside of this trend. According to Melissa Wilson of restaurant consulting firm, Technomic, appearing in April at the Restaurant Leadership Conference in Phoenix, restaurant delivery is expected to grow by 12 percent. The logistics of restaurant delivery is something that is challenging to scale internally and is a revenue-generating program in itself that several chains have handed off to third-party delivery companies.

In fact, several high-profile announcements during the summer have highlighted the importance of delivery to restaurant chains. Chipotle, Naf Naf Grill, California Pizza Kitchen, Shake Shack, and Applebee’s have either started or expanded delivery programs and made them part of their growth and digital strategies. Consumers are apt to embrace food delivery and there is high demand. However, they have not always embraced third-party delivery, traditionally preferring direct delivery from restaurants themselves.

Naf Naf Grill Launches Delivery: Eatery Pulse Streem

Independent eateries, which already have a higher satisfaction rating on many fronts, according to a Pentallect-Critical Mix study, are more easily able to offer restaurant-operated delivery service, a challenge that chains may have to overcome as delivery continues to become more popular, and at the same time, more ubiquitous and hyper-local. Restaurant branding and the restaurant experience doesn’t easily transfer to a vehicle, and then consequently to the home of diners, just as food doesn’t always travel well. How are restaurants to ensure their brands remain in a positive light during third party delivery?

Throughput and execution

Putting the customer first is a big step in ensuring a restaurant company is protecting its brand.. Restaurants that provide catering are ahead of the game in understanding the importance of a customer-first philosophy off-premises. Jim Rand, Catering Practice Leader for ezCater, a technology company that helps corporate caterers find catering partners and fill catering orders, notes these key similarities between catering and single-order restaurant delivery:

  • Building a relationship with the customer to win loyalty and repeat business
    Delivering the highest quality food that is as close to the in-restaurant experience as possible
  • Having the entire customer experience be “on-brand,” mimicking the menu offerings across all on- or off-premises channels
  • Being on-time and accurate with all food items requested and make sure all are delivered as ordered

“Given the right fee structure, and if the tech companies provide enough value up front, offering delivery will be necessary for most restaurants to remain competitive in 2018 and beyond,” says Landon Ledford, a marketing executive for Double L Brands and a marketing consultant for startups and growing concepts. The kitchen is a place where established systems and flow are set and third-party delivery is usually layered on top, creating a challenge. Obstacles include adding new technology, higher order numbers, confusing turnaround times, and then having to hand off the product to a third-party delivery partner.

Restaurant Chains Offer Delivery with DoorDash: Eatery Pulse Streem

Third party delivery-service providers, like DoorDash, can play a big role in how restaurant chains can successfully executive delivery. Photo by DoorDash.

This being said, third-party providers can play a big role in the success of delivery and execution with proper coordination and planning. These companies can help select the delivery menu that will be used by restaurants in an effort to improve the customer experience, using their delivery expertise. Customer experience has to be a top priority. Onboarding specialists from delivery companies can help ensure restaurants are set up for success on their platforms in key ways.

Not all food items will travel well, and opening up the entire menu to delivery is not necessarily the right thing to do. Ledford says the observation made by Zach Pollack of Cosa Buona, Los Angeles, in a USA Today article is on point. “Meat, for instance, that’s braised or roasted is likely to hold up better than that which is seared.” Technology companies should help restaurateurs understand the ability for certain items to be on delivery menus based on how well they will travel, thereby keeping customer satisfaction a top priority.

As restaurant partners, third-party companies can help optimize pricing and menu based on the data they possess. “Delivery partners know they’re cutting into margins, so combat that by ensuring the restaurants are selling in-demand items, and subtly marking-up prices accordingly,” says Ledford. As restaurant chains turn toward big data, they also possess a lot of valuable information, but it can always be augmented by third-party delivery data if it can be used throughout the partnership.

IHOP Takeout Packaging: Eatery Pulse Streem

IHOP created special takeout and delivery packaging, including containers that help pancakes travel well. Photo by IHOP.

Food quality upon delivery

A basics-first approach is also helpful in putting your best foot forward before handing off to delivery partners. Restaurant companies can ensure food quality by paying close to attention to containers and packaging. Cold items need to stay cold; hot items need to stay hot. Simple, right? But even this can be a challenge if the right set up and transport containers are not used. This is something that can be reviewed during onboarding with the restaurant delivery partner. While the food is at the restaurant, ezCater’s Rand says, “…upon setup of the product, there should be branded labeling that explains the menu item and associated ingredients and calls out the virtues of the item (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.), and any potential common allergens (nuts, dairy, soy, etc.).”

Rand notes that any labeling is a great opportunity to represent the brand and signal the brand to customers. Special packaging can be considered for premium and highly-popular items. Ledford from Double L Brands points out that IHOP, for example, created special packaging for its pancakes to travel well. In fact, IHOP developed a whole line of IHOP ‘N Go packaging with key quality elements in mind, specifically to: develop food-centric containers provide quality pancakes on the go, allow breakfast staples to be kept warm longer create packaging for easy transport and ensure combo meals are made easy. The packaging allows for temperature control, secures items for travel with less sliding, and allows shippers to package several items together.

Analysis

Panel members at a recent CohnReznick Restaurant Tech Summit in Washington, D.C., suggested that delivery companies do not currently use their technology to help improve the data that restaurants possess. Something that has been quite innovative is Domino’s Pizza Tracker, and a few delivery services also use similar technology to provide food tracking. “A few platforms do provide “real-time tracking”, at least in their sales pitch to restaurants—we can’t, however, expect a restaurant operator in the middle of a busy lunch to manage this, says Ledord. He suggests tech companies still have room to improve the technology to make it work for restaurants.

[Read related article: Industry executives provide insights on delivery boom.]

Additionally, Ledford notes that restaurants could use support in the reporting and identifying of customer complaints, as well as the whole customer care process. He says, “Amazon Restaurants has an interesting value proposition here by having their army of customer service reps available to field complaints, this is still pretty generic in nature, though.” According to Ledford, technology companies should invest further in their relationship with restaurants and become more consultative. This will go a long way in helping restaurant companies succeed in delivery and protecting their brand identity.

This article was published previously in Restaurant C-Suite Magazine.

Author credit: Eric Nomis

Photo credit: Naf Naf Grill (top), DoorDash (inline, middle), IHOP (inline, bottom).

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