If you weren’t thinking that much about online ordering before, you definitely are now. The habits of diners have changed, and our approach to off-premise along with it. The easiest way to get your food out there is by partnering with a third-party delivery app. While easy, this way ends up costing more in the short term, does not contribute to long-term growth, and can end up hurting your business. But when it’s so dead simple to get listed on third-party delivery marketplaces and take orders, why do all the other work to create your own system when you are a time-strapped restaurateur?
What are the benefits of self-operated delivery for restaurants?
Native or first-party delivery doesn't rely on a separate service to take and send out orders. Which means no fees paid to UberEats, GrubHub, Postmates, DoorDash. These fees, when not managed, cut deep into razor-thin margins, and in some cases, can contribute to a restaurant closing for good.
With an owned delivery platform, you gain full control over the delivery process. This comes with two huge advantages: high margins and owned customer data.
When you don't have to pay a third-party provider 20%-30% off the top of every order—that's money in your pocket. It will still cost you to run your own delivery. Yet it's better for your bottom line when you don't have to kick a percentage back to a vendor.
Owning your customer and delivery data is invaluable. Third-party platforms keep this data from you. Even if a customer orders 100 times from you, there wouldn’t be a way for you to reach out and say thank you. When you keep that data, you can use it to your advantage and increase retention. Send customers special offers, communicate directly, and keep them up to date.
How to Set Up Online Food Ordering
Scott Landers, Co-founder and Systems Engineer at Figure 8 Logistics, recommends a four-step framework to create a native ordering system. “We use this idea of the delivery cycle with the marketplace, the kitchen, the logistics and feedback, and as each different building blocks that you have to put together to get a delivery done,” says Landers.
Join the Marketplace 📲
Unless you plan on taking orders over the phone 90s-style, you'll need a digital marketplace to offer delivery and pickup. Without existing apps, this lives on your restaurant’s website. There are many ways to do this, and making the right choice for your restaurant is paramount to your success. Here are the things you should consider:
Things to Consider When Choosing an Online Ordering Platform
- Does it integrate with my Point of Sale (POS)
- Will I need to add another tablet to my front of house setup?
- Does it integrate with my restaurant’s website?
- Does it integrate with courier services such as DoorDash Drive, Jolt, or Relay? (More on this later)
The right choice will strike a balance between these. Look to your restaurant’s website provider or your point-of-sale vendor first to see if there is an integration. Some of the services that offer first-party delivery include:
Once you’ve chosen and set up your online ordering, it’s essential to optimize your pages for discovery. Add a direct delivery link to all your social media profiles and display it on your website loud and proud. Make it as easy as possible for guests to find it and reduce any friction between them and an order. Include a postcard in all orders with a QR code or simple link in all of your orders to serve as a reminder.
Get Your Kitchen and Menu Ready to Go 🍳
So—you’re ready to take orders. Now it’s time to make sure you’re ready to prepare and package them. But don't go ahead and upload your menu dish-for-dish. Spend some time optimizing it for takeout and delivery. Dine-in and off-premise are very different things, and it's a must to take into account.
“Don’t feel that you have to put your menu online for any reason,” says Landers. "...the digital real estate that you have on a phone as much less...at a certain point, you can always scroll for so long."
An even bigger factor is portability and shelf life. “Certain dishes, like a rare steak, don’t travel well,” says Landers. Nobody ever wants to eat a soggy french fry, either. Most menus were not designed with takeout in mind.
To ensure that your food makes sense for off-premise dining, Landers suggests a mock delivery. Go through all the steps: prepare your dish, package it, and let it sit in the cold. Let it sit on a shelf for 10 minutes. Do your best to mimic the delivery process as best you can. Go as far as driving around for 15 minutes. After trying various situations, give your food an honest assessment. If the dish isn't as good, recognize that it isn’t going to be any better in a real-world delivery situation. You may need to adjust how it’s packaged or even consider removing it as an offering for takeout.
Takeout and Delivery Packaging Tips and Tricks
When it comes to packaging food for takeout, steam is public enemy number one. It renders even the crispiest fries mushy and lettuce unrecognizable. To avoid this problem, there are a few approaches.
Use vented containers—small vents allow steam to escape, yet retaining adequate heat, keeping hot food hot.
Ditch the styrofoam completely. While it retains heat well, it traps steam. Not to mention it’s one of the worst things for the environment.
Keep temperatures together—this may mean many bags or even packaging burgers separate from toppings
For even more tips and tricks for takeout packaging, check out the MrTakeoutBags blog.
Logistics and Delivery 🚙
Once your ordering platform is ready and your kitchen ready, it’s time to address the big question: How are you going to get the food to your customers?
There are generally two approaches. The first is hiring your own drivers. The other is outsourcing to a courier service like DoorDash Drive, Relay, or Jolt. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Should I hire my own drivers?
7shifts' data has seen a 243% growth in delivery-related roles (i.e. courier, driver, offsite, dispatch, carrier, transport.) As of December 2020, 900 delivery-related roles have been created in the 9 months since March 2020. This is in comparison to 254 roles added in the 9 months before March 2020. A lot of restaurants are employing their own drivers, or cross-training their staff to be able to do delivery.
This isn’t a particularly new concept, either. Teenagers have been delivering pizzas for mom-and-pops for decades. But new technology and the meteoric rise of third-party delivery raises questions about its viability as the right model for everyone. According to Scott Landers, these are a few of the reasons you may consider hiring your own fleet of drivers:
If you don’t have access to on-demand couriers or delivery providers. Restaurants in small cities or more remote locations fall into this category.
If you offer products that have special considerations. Pizzerias often go the driver route for the special bags that pizza boxes need. Cold or frozen products like cakes and ice cream also fall into this category.
If you have steady business between certain hours and on days that you can count on. If you know when your busy spikes are and are confident that in-house drivers can make enough deliveries so the economics work, hiring drivers is a great option.
Things to Consider: Hiring Drivers
There are a few things to consider when hiring drivers beyond the economics and payroll:
- City and Local Ordinances (such as reflective gear or e-bike laws)
- Equipment Maintenance (Delivery Bags, Protective Gear)
- Vehicular Maintenance (Cars, Scooters, Bikes)
- Gas Reimbursements
- Insurance and Tax Implications
- New employees on the payroll on board and train
Recommended Reading: Can restaurants make delivery efficient? Employing Drivers vs. Not
Should I use a courier service?
In medium- to large-sized cities with delivery ecosystems, the using a courier service is hard option to pass up
Often use a flat-rate per delivery (which generally hovers in the $4 to $6 dollar range—meaning you pay the same amount on a solo lunch delivery and a dinner for six). This is significantly better than a 20% to 30% commission charged by third-party delivery that effectively caps your margins. It also allows you more control over your delivery pricing, such as splitting costs with the customer, charging a fee to cover it, or offering free delivery over a certain amount.
Landers recommends this option for small, independent operators and businesses with less than 5 locations. With those logistics handled, “you can really just focus on the marketing and branding, connect with your guests, and running the kitchen," says Landers.
Things to Consider: using a courier service for delivery
- Does my POS and online ordering platform integrate with the service?
- Does the cost per delivery work out better economically than if I hired my own driver?
- Are there enough drivers in my area to support the volume?
- Will my customers get their food in a timely manner?
Beyond the Order: Differentiation, Marketing, and Feedback 🗣
You’re set up to take orders, your menu is optimized, and you’ve figured out the best way to get your food on to your customers’ tables. From here, you want to ensure that you’re offering the best version of delivery and of your restaurant that you can. A few aspects of the ordering ecosystem you’ve created
For Brandon Knopfle at Acorn Grill, simply throwing his menu up on Toast Online Ordering wasn’t enough. “I made the online ordering platform as ridiculously easy and streamlined as I possibly could.” says Knopfle. He even set up the language on drop down menus “to ask questions like a real human would.” For example, instead of the requisite “Choose Toppings,” the online menu for Acorn Grill reads “Would you like additional toppings?” Knopfle adds that he “likes using those [online platforms] as extensions of ourselves.
Other ways in which restaurants can differentiate themselves from the pack is to embrace what makes them special. If you’re known for your cocktails, make them available for online ordering. Commit to special packages for holidays like Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Start by selling experiences and making it special for your guest.
Recommended Reading: How Restaurants Can Remain Competitive in 2023
Your online ordering is no use to you or your customers if they don’t know it exists. A few tips to get the word out about your self-operated delivery platform include:
- Making sure that your Google MyBusiness profile has a direct link
- Display it prominently on yur restaurant website
- Add a link to all of your social media profile
- If you're using a third-party delivery service as well, add a postcard into each bag to remind cusomters to order directly from you.
- Run social ads that link back to your native ordering
The best way to get better is to listen to what your guests are saying. The first part of this is to listen to whatever feedback you get organically. Look to social posts and comments, customer emails, and review sites. Engage with and respond to your customers, and address any improvements that need to be made with your team.
“Work with your marketplace or POS provider to see if they have an integration with feedback service or some way of collecting this on the order receipt," says Landers. You may also opt to just send out a monthly satisfaction survey to your customers (which is only possible when you own your customer data!). To incentivize, add an offer like a free drink or dessert, or a percent-off coupon for their next order.
Closing Thoughts: How to Create Native Online Ordering for Restaurant
Third-party platforms are easy—and they make your restaurant instantly discoverable to diners. But that simplicity and discoverability come at the cost of high fees—averaging 18.4% but running 30% or higher for many. Not to mention, the platforms keep your customer data. Adding a native, self-operated option is ideal for any restaurant that offers delivery, and is well worth the effort to save you money and help your business grow.
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D. J. Costantino
Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!