Deliveries are a must for any food chain in this day and age. I often speak to restaurant chain owners whose business focus has completely shifted. For some of them, delivery orders account for a third of their business - bringing them growth at an unexpected rate.
When restaurant chain logistics teams ask for my tips on devising a delivery strategy, there are two points that I always stress. Firstly, I advise them to make the most of crowdsourced fleets and third-party delivery partners. This will help them ensure they have flexibility beyond a team of in-house drivers, which for many restaurant chains is the first step. Secondly, I stress that good food is where it begins and ends. That’s why your customers need you, want you, and love you. Sounds obvious, right? In practice, the many components of the delivery jigsaw can easily distract teams from their product, resulting compromises on quality. I strongly advise companies to put food at the heart of any delivery plan, conversation, or strategy.
Consider these five crucial elements when planning the delivery strategy for your restaurant chain:
1. Calculate your food’s optimal ‘shelf life’
The first thing a food chain needs to think about when devising a delivery strategy, is the exact time frame available for food delivery without compromising food quality. What is the duration at which the temperature, texture and presentation standards will continue to meet those you would expect in store? Nobody likes a soggy burger, cold fries or soda that has been watered-down by melted ice. Once you understand your precise delivery time window, you can reverse-engineer the delivery operation to ensure customers will always have the best dining experience.
2. Seamless communications between drivers, kitchen staff, and customers
Restaurants should treat orders for deliveries like regular orders in a branch. In order to avoid bottlenecks serving customers on-premise, it’s important to understand and forecast the increase in volume of orders to staff and equip the kitchen accordingly. However, forecasting doesn’t always match demand - this is true for drivers and deliveries, and occasionally for some of the items on your menu. In order to handle these sticky situations swiftly with customers, your digital platform should have real time visibility into your capacity, including delivery capacity - whether certain menu items are out of stock, or if a specific branch is closed due to unforeseen circumstances.
Your website or app, even when connected to a third-party aggregator, should be able to adjust the menu to show missing menu items per branch. This means that, for example, if one branch runs out of orange juice, customers should not be able to order orange juice; managing expectations based on live inventory and capacity with full transparency. Similarly, backend operations teams and dispatchers should have real time visibility and aggregate reporting on order progress as well as customer satisfaction, so adjustments to delivery operations can be made as needed.
3. Slow and strategic delivery rollout
Delivery operations don’t scale overnight. Give yourself the time and resources to test and optimize delivery before rolling it out. Start with one region to test your new products, systems, and processes. Choose the region or area with your best people, preferably somewhere with medium density. This ideal setup allows you to test and refine your delivery operations under ideal conditions, working out the primary kinks before rolling it out to other areas with higher density or less optimal staffing.
Depending on the type of food you offer, restaurants have different peaks during the day. For example, if your business is stronger during breakfast and lunch, you can start trying deliveries after 11AM. Skipping breakfast will ease the workload on-site until your processes are running smoothly and fully embedded into your operations. Also, remember that peak delivery times don’t always correlate with peak delivery times inside your restaurants. For example, some restaurants may see peak volume in store at dinner, but experience peak delivery at lunch. These pilot phase insights will help you plan your operations for broader delivery rollout.
4. Choose the right fleet in terms of size and quality
Once again, the time window to deliver the food in without compromising on quality will greatly determine the optimal fleet solution for your business. If orders can be stacked and batched for delivery, drivers will able to accomodate more orders in a single run and fewer drivers will be needed. Crowdsourced fleets are often a fantastic alternative or fallback option, providing on-demand access to drivers when you need them most. Another advantage of crowdsourcing is that you do not need to manage driver utilization and idle time during quieter times of the day. Many companies building dedicated crowd-sourced fleets that work exclusively for them during peak times - often alongside their in-house fleet.
Consider the strategic value of first-party or white-label third-party delivery. Premium restaurant brands and high delivery volume restaurants often find these options particularly attractive. Top notch, branded delivery extends the premium experience from the restaurant to the delivery. Similarly, high delivery volume restaurant chains are often able to find both meaningful economies of scale and strategic leverage by using an in-house delivery offering, occasionally alongside a white-labeled third party or outside provider.
When selecting third-party delivery partners, remember that there’s a lot of room for negotiation. Competition is fierce in this industry. Aggregators and third-party delivery fleets such as UberEats and Deliveroo are aggressively pursuing growth, giving restaurant chains room for negotiations on the set fees and commissions. Besides that, it’s increasingly common for restaurant chains to use multiple fleets. This strategy is ultimately better for the end customer because there are more drivers available to deliver. This can also help companies achieve quicker deliveries and improve their profit margins by prioritizing deliveries assigned to the most-cost effective fleets based on availability at any given time.
When negotiating with a third-party or crowdsourcing provider, make sure that you have full transparency into delivery timing, customer satisfaction, and delivering your own branded customer experiences. A recent study suggested that 80% of customers will blame the restaurant, not the delivery provider for a poor delivery order experience. Protect your long term brand and business.
5. Use food as a marketing tool.
Delivery is not just an add-on, it’s a new way to order, experience and enjoy your food. Like any new offering, it’s important to launch and promote your delivery services. There are multiple ways to launch and promote delivery. Popular tactics include in-app coupons, offers and free delivery promotions. In addition, big brands often do extensive TV, online, print and radio campaigns as they roll-out deliveries .
An increasingly popular strategy to promote deliveries is by introducing new menu items exclusive to delivery orders. By putting new and exciting food at the heart of your marketing efforts, you can entice customers to try your delivery services alongside a new exclusive dish. Furthermore, by focusing on the food rather than on the discounts, you have an opportunity to position your delivery, engaging your customers in new ways that build preference and loyalty rather than offering them ‘one-off’ discounts that might not improve repeat orders or brand loyalty in the long term.
The industry will continue evolving and competition for food delivery will intensify. Don’t let your food quality became a casualty of poor planning. Ensure that the quality of your food isn’t compromised by delivery. Food quality and your brand experience can’t be afterthoughts. These principles should be at the core of your delivery operation. This strategy provides a solid foundation, upon which you build, scale and optimize the delivery process while delivering an exceptional customer experience and growing a loyal base of satisfied customers.