Food + Culture

Industry Insider: How to Win at Delivery

Industry Insider is a regular column written by hospitality and food & beverage industry expert Michael Bonadies. He answers aspiring and established restaurateurs and hoteliers’ most pressing questions on how to build a successful business in one of the world’s most competitive industries.

Krispy Rice delivery packaging.
Packaging for Krispy Rice, a sushi restaurant doing delivery bento boxes right.

Q. “How do I make the most out of delivery? What do I have to keep in mind to make sure my customers are happy and I’m improving my bottom line?”

Here’s how to win at the delivery game, make your customers happy, and put some extra cash in your pocket.

Embrace the Limitations of Your Kitchen

If only you could expand your kitchen, adding a whole new cooking line and hood to execute your delivery menu. Almost as sweet would be to tweak the firepower on your prep line, so that it can double as the delivery line. The reality, however, is that your kitchen is already maxed out. Even so, try to squeeze in a piece of non-vented equipment—the CVap Cook & Hold is a great undercounter solution. And portable steam tables, immersion circulators, holding cabinets, and soup kettles can all up your kitchen’s game. Remember the goal is to drive additional, profitable revenue without crashing your operation on a busy night.

Think Room Service

A hotel room service menu is typically produced off the same line that serves the dining room. To adapt this model and make it work in your kitchen, set up a dedicated table with all your packaging and condiment needs. Keep the table super organized and, during the rush, stick a second expeditor there to coordinate pick-ups, package the orders, and double check that each order is correct before sending it out the door.

Smaller Menus & Fewer Touches!

Ban all tweezers! Smaller menus and a focus on cross-utilization help limit prep events and the mise en place needed on the line. For improved speed, park your ego and reduce the number of ingredients, pans, and touches each item requires. Once you’ve dialed in your menu in relation to the limitations of your firepower, the advantages of less is more, and an organized delivery table, why not think about launching a virtual “sister” delivery concept that works off everything that you’ve already set up…cha-ching!

Kick It Up a Notch

A modern POS system.
A modern POS, aimed at making every customer interaction simple and speedy. | Photographer: LDprod | Source: Shutterstock

Food tends to lose its punch during delivery, so focus menu development on deeply flavored sauces and marinades. And add seductive aromas by including fresh herbs, lime wedges or hot broth for customers to finish items—or a branded note that informs them that their pizza will taste (and smell) a lot better after they’ve zapped it in the oven for 10 minutes.

It’s also time to up your tech game—the last thing you want to struggle with is juggling four different ordering tablets when you’re in the weeds. If your current POS doesn’t aggregate delivery orders check out Otter, Chowly, or Orderlord for a solution. And speaking of kicking it up, successful and profitable delivery depends on your average order value (AOV), so give thought to how you can tempt customers to spend more—snacks, desserts, beverages, merchandise—to consistently drive a higher check average.

Make It Nice

Champs and Heroes delivery packaging.
Delivery packaging for Champs and Heroes, a shop that pairs sub sandwiches with champagne.

The right packaging can help ensure higher quality food on arrival. And since the packaging may be your customer’s sole brand experience, imaginative packaging and branding is your one shot at the delivery equivalent of the “wow” of a beautifully plated presentation landing in front of a guest. Do your research:

  1. Order from the competitors who are crushing delivery—what type of packaging are they using and how well does their food present and eat. It’s only your sacred right to “borrow” good ideas.
  2. Share your proposed menu with your vendors to get samples to test—i.e., fry bags if French fries are going to be a major seller.
  3. Push your budget to customize as much of your packaging as possible. At a minimum, splurge for customized deli sheets and stickers, and especially branded packages for spices and seasonings—make sure to put a little extra in each package so that they hang around like the delivery equivalent of match books that remind customers of your restaurant.

Friends & Family

You’ve zeroed in on a menu that you know your customers want and you think will travel well. But just like opening a new restaurant and working out the kinks with friends and family test meals, you need to test delivery. Deliver to yourself. Deliver to friends. Deliver to family. Rough up a few orders. Let orders sit for 30 minutes. Deliver the wrong items. Identify the problems and fix them. 86 the items that don’t travel well!

Share Your Brand

Delivery customers interact with your brand via their cell phones, so:

  1. Spend money on photography—food shots that look great on a small screen will help sell your menu.
  2. Create a strong digital marketing campaign.
  3. Make sure your website rocks in order to drive as many orders as possible through your website to better control the experience, capture customer data, and lower your delivery fees.
  4. Up your social media efforts—giving your brand personality and distinctiveness—to get people to connect with your brand and offerings.
  5. Share and delight. Include a QR code that streams your playlist or a recipe card for your top selling cocktail in the bag. Handwritten thank you notes are a great touch, and for your best regulars, just like you would in your restaurant, comp them something once in a while.
  6. Share the wins—especially reposts of customers loving the food.

Listen & Respond

In lieu of managers touching the tables, make sure you have a highly visible customer service email and encourage customers to use it. If anything goes wrong, you want to know about it so you can fix it via a re-order or an offer of freebies on the next order. And if you’ve totally screwed up, hand deliver the re-order yourself. A commitment to fixing problems together with a consistent personal touch will help you win at delivery.

Editors note: If you’re a restaurateur looking for a leg up, apply to the NBRHD Restaurant Development Program. And to know when the program is being offered in your city, follow REEF on social media.

Blueprint contributor and acclaimed food writer Michael Bonadies

Michael Bonadies is president of international hospitality firm Bonadies Hospitality, LLC. An accomplished entrepreneur and James Beard journalism award winner, Michael is the author of Sip by Sip: An Insider’s Guide to Learning All About Wine.


Leaving so soon?
Get great content straight to your inbox