3 Level-Headed Responses to a Major Foodservice Movement

Convenience. It’s, unquestionably, one of the most macro of the macro trends in the food industry right now, with online ordering taking off like a rocket in both foodservice and retail purchasing.

As unsettling as it might be among many dine-in restaurants, this is especially true for delivery services, which, according to a recent Technomic report cited by Restaurant Business, are projected to grow 12% a year through 2022, with a “staggering 86% of consumers using off-premises services at least monthly.”

This is a major ground shift under our foodservice feet. But what does it mean?

Here are 3 important, if not all-inclusive, points to consider for those who want to calm the unsettling and capitalize.

1. Embrace Food Delivery—Wisely

Even with the surge in off-premises dining, the Technomic report goes on to reveal that nearly two-thirds of operators who have ventured into delivery say it’s generated incremental sales, with only 11% seeing any kind of impact to their dine-in business.

So, maybe the sky isn’t falling for dine-in establishments. But, with the added market reach that delivery affords—not to mention the markup potential—if this trend doesn’t yet appear to represent a serious threat, at the very least, ignoring it does represent a missed opportunity.

For most operations not structured for delivery, nor poised to take on the investment in labor, delivery-driver insurance and other related costs, all roads point to third-party services like Grubhub or Uber Eats.

In this scenario, it’s critical to negotiate down to the detail with management level in these organizations—not just on pricing, but on the delivery process, from the pickup to the endpoint.

Plus, it’s also wise to adjust delivery menus where appropriate, per which items travel well and which ones don’t.

And then, of course, other best practices include taking precautions against profit siphoning at the hands of drivers inclined to sample the meal order, if you will—practices such as only sending sealed beverages and tying off the bag after receipt signoff confirmation on the order.

Primarily, it comes down to maximizing what you get for the margin you might give up and guarding your brand when the delivery service is engaging the customer and, therefore, owns the sale.

...which dovetails into the next point.

2. Show the Love to Your Dine-In Base

Ramp up investments in brand engagement that you can control, including your website and your employee over-the-phone customer-service training that involve interfacing with on- and off-premises customers.

Beyond that, though, innovate ways to develop and promote incentives for dine-in business, from exclusive dine-in menu offerings to LTOs and loyalty club advantages.

Further, always keep in mind the other trends driven by the Millennials who now represent the largest consumer population, namely those associated with their affinity for brands that have a story and their quest for new experiences

Restaurant success will always begin and end with food quality, regardless if it’s enjoyed on- or off-premises. But, as the market seeks new experiences, it will look for these experiences not just in menu innovation, but also in a return to establishments that truly offer something unique around the table.

Who knows? As the off-premises surge hits its peak, the draw of eating out just might pull the trend pendulum back, and operators invested in a true dine-in “experience” will, ironically, be ahead of the curve.  

3. Seek Throughput Solutions

If making a serious run at capitalizing on off-premises business, the fact remains that this segment still eats at the same time as dine-in patrons, forcing operators to evaluate solutions for increased productivity. Otherwise, service suffers on both fronts.

Much like when considering the potential pitfalls of a kitchen downsize, layout efficiency and workflow ergonomics, now with a full-scale delivery function incorporated, are important, as are menu and food-equipment evaluation decisions.

On the menu, it’s about prep time and, again, what travels well in terms of optimum temperature and presentation.

On the equipment side, operators should investigate more thoroughly for value, as well as even the most nuanced innovations that provide underestimated time savings—from blenders that blend in the drink container to cooking units with multiple heating sources, to accessories that eliminate entire steps in a given process.