How Restaurants Make The Most of Their Delivery and Takeout Methods

The desire to order food from your favorite restaurant and bring it back home to enjoy on your sofa (or, even better, to have it delivered right to your door) is a strong one for American diners, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Industry report for 2023 indicated that 8 out of 10 restaurants that began offering delivery for the first time during the pandemic plan to continue.

But for full-service restaurants whose primary focus is on-site dining, figuring out how to make the takeout/delivery model work for them can come with unique challenges. Luckily, some restaurateurs have embraced the increase in off-premises dining and have implemented policies, strategies, and even technologies to keep operations flowing as seamlessly and hospitably as possible.

COVID had a powerful effect on delivery and takeout nationwide.

While restaurant delivery and takeout certainly existed prior to the COVID pandemic, dining room shutdowns and the staff cuts that followed required restaurants to quickly change tactics and turn their off-premises operations into the focal point of their business models.

“Pre-COVID, we did about 8 or 9 percent [of sales] off-premises, and that’s a combination of phone-in, carryout, and delivery. And then COVID hit. We were forced to pivot a lot, and [delivery and takeout] spiked up to 90% of sales,” explains Scott SirLouis, chief operations officer of FSC Franchise Co., the Florida-based parent company behind Beef O’Brady’s, a sports bar and restaurant chain with locations in 14 states.

Restaurants had a vested interest in maximizing to-go sales during COVID, and SirLouis tells us that that inspired Beef O’Brady’s  to “do a lot of creative things. We were selling family meals, grocery packs, alcohol, cocktails by the gallon. We were trying to figure out everything we could to get every dollar in sales through the door.”

SirLouis admits that off-premises sales cooled down considerably when the shutdowns ended and dining rooms were able to reopen. But the COVID experience taught the Beef O’Brady’s team a valuable lesson about how takeout and delivery orders can boost a business, and SirLouis says that “our priority [became about] how we can get off-premises sales to stick even as people return to dining out.”

takeout delivery
(Photo: Beef O'Brady's)

Some restaurants have used staffing shakeups, design changes, and tech assistance to help streamline off-premises dining.

In order to keep delivery and takeout as appealing options for guests, restaurant groups saw a need to update their processes and emphasize both efficiency and food quality as they plunged into the post-COVID dining landscape. Matt Linse, director of operations of Village Inn, a casual restaurant chain with locations in 18 states, tells us that one important shift at Village Inn involved “correct packaging.” COVID takeout-order spikes made it clear that hot dishes can languish in poorly-designed boxes and trays, so Linse and his team decided to diversify their supply with vented boxes becoming crucial items in their arsenal.

“There are some things that are super hot, and they need to have a little breathing room so they don't oversteam and overheat inside of the container. So there's that ventilation piece to that,” Linse explains.

Village Inn also found that packaging provided a prime opportunity to grow their branding. By stamping boxes and bags with a logo and contact info, including brochures in the delivery bags, and even offering promos on said brochures, restaurants can solidify brand awareness and encourage future orders.

For SirLouis and the Beef O’Brady’s team, reconfiguring the staff needs for takeout and delivery orders has been an essential step. Prior to the pandemic, Beef O’Brady’s had its bartenders answering phones and taking orders for delivery or pickup, which distracted from the their primary job (making drinks for on-site customers). That’s why the team recently decided to “designate a particular hostess to handling all the off-premises orders.” This employee is responsible for taking the orders, ensuring that the kitchen receives the orders, and interacting with guests and third-party delivery workers to facilitate proper hand-offs. Beef O’Brady’s redesigned the host stand to add space and shelving for takeout organization, along with “adding a dedicated POS terminal with a printer, cash drawer, and credit card device, [as well as] additional phone lines.”

Linse tells us that one of the biggest innovations to improve Village Inn’s takeout structure was the addition of “heated shelves for our pickup areas. The heated shelves are heated from the bottom, they don’t burn or melt the bag or the package, they still keep it warm. This helps the longevity of those hot dishes.”

Technology can also provide a serious advantage to restaurant groups looking to offer efficient off-premises options. Linse says that the Village Inn recently decided to use their ticketing software to separate in-house orders from to-go orders on the expo line. “We treat them like two separate areas of the restaurant, and it lessens the burden and decreases the muddiness of orders coming into the kitchen and how they need to be executed,” Linse explains.

When it comes to third-party delivery services, tech has been a further game-changer for restaurant groups. Kendall Ware, chief operating officer of Walk-On’s, a sports bar and restaurant chain with locations in 14 states, says that “we have an aggregator pull in all third-party delivery orders into one source to make fulfillment more seamless for restaurants, which in turn increases speed and order accuracy. Embracing new technology has been instrumental in ensuring accuracy, speed, and convenience throughout the entire takeout and delivery journey at every Walk-On’s.”

Inspired by the chaos of the holiday season, the Village Inn implemented a fairly unique solution to its overwhelming volume of call-in orders: a call center. “We’ve contracted with another company to offset some of the ongoing phone calls we get for to-go orders [during the holidays]. We don’t have enough people or enough phones [at the restaurants themselves] to answer all of those calls, but we don’t want to lose those sales. So we challenged our IT and marketing teams to find a way to capture those orders, and third party call centers were [the solution],” Linse says.

delivery takeout restaurants
(Photo: Walk-On's)

AI just might be the wave of the future in restaurant delivery/takeout.

Artificial intelligence was once a topic mostly discussed in sci-fi books and movies, but in 2024, AI has managed to infiltrate countless industries, providing services that are sometimes controversial but that can also do a great deal to boost efficiency.

Linse says that Village Inn has yet to implement AI as part of its regular operating process but that he’s open to the idea, “We are monitoring it, and I think that there’s probably a place for it in the future. Using [AI] to emulate staff members, as long as it’s set up the right way, is something that most businesses should consider, as long as it doesn’t take away from the guests’ experience. It’s the way of the future, no doubt."

As for Beef O’Brady’s, Scott SirLouis says that they’ve already begun working with AI companies and have been pleased with the experience thus far: “We've partnered up with a an AI chatbot company. We tested this out in 10 locations. We just recently rolled it out to the balance of our 33 corporate stores, and we’re making it available to franchisees. We upgraded our phone system to an IVR so that when people call the restaurants, you know they pressed the "one for carry-out orders” option, and if you press that, you’re now connected to the chatbot. The chatbot can place the order over the phone and put it directly into the POS. Chatbots are handling about 80 to 85% of the [to-go] orders that they take. So anything that's a standard menu item, the chatbot does a very good job.”


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