How to Simplify Your Restaurant Delivery Service
More and more, younger generations are opting to stay in. That trend runs parallel with the rise of off-premise dining, which has become a more than 200 billion dollar global market. Around 60 percent of customers in the U.S. order delivery or takeout once per week and research indicates that the future of dining out is eating in. These trends have inspired restaurateurs to shift their strategy to include off-premise options. Whether you’re rising to meet growing demands enhancing your current delivery strategy or building a new one, knowing how to create and simplify your restaurant delivery service is a vital step.
From start to finish, there are many steps for a restaurant and the accompanying technology to process before a driver hands your order to your (hopefully) satisfied guest. If you want your customers to come back for seconds, then every part of the diners’ journey matters; the longer an order takes has a direct correlation with customer satisfaction.
Fortunately, there are technological solutions designed to streamline your restaurant delivery service. For example, restaurant tech provides you with automation and logistical features that help you maintain the quantity of your output and your quality. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the life of an order.
How is the Order Placed?
Placing an order may seem straightforward enough, but depending on how your customers connect with you, it can get complicated. The answer to how they reach you can inform your decision as to your off-premise delivery strategy, specifically whether you operate in-house or through a third-party. The three current options are as follows:
- The customer calls directly to the business.
- Guests place their order through a restaurant’s online website.
- A diner uses a third-party delivery app to place an order.
There are plenty of obstacles to overcome, no matter what approach you take to your restaurant delivery service. Fortunately, there are kitchen display systems (KDS) bundled in a delivery platform to streamline your back-of-house and off-premise operations. Before we break down the three primary avenues that generate orders, let’s look at the behind-the-scenes technology that enables it.
Why APIs Matter
Beyond the logistics of getting the order into the system, there are background elements that factor into your decision making. Cloud-based systems rely on application programming interfaces (API) to place the order. An API is a communications protocol that connects different devices. Think of your API as using Google Translate when you’re abroad. In that example, the API is connecting two systems of communication (two different languages), so that everyone can understand one another.
Your API setup may seem like a minor detail, but it matters. Say a guest places an order through a third-party vendor app. That order is connected to your restaurant point-of-sale (POS), which communicates data to your KDS, or the order bypasses your POS and routes directly to your KDS. One of the benefits of routing an order straight into the KDS is that you can provide real-time order status to your guests.
Unfortunately, because only the third-party vendor app and the POS are in communication, the KDS can’t provide real-time metrics. Your customers care about wait times, and a long wait can hurt your hold time. Without the appropriate data from your API, you can’t give anything but the barest estimate.
The Telephone Game
Suppose your customer calls in. Who do they talk to? In most cases, they’ll speak with someone at your host stand. That host has to input the data manually. But where are they putting that information? Is it directly into your point-of-sale device, or is handwritten and delivered to the back?
That’s a lot to unpack, but critical to your operation. Paper tickets have long been a staple of the restaurant industry, but present their own set of problems. What happens if the order is miswritten? If it’s handwritten, how can you guarantee that everyone can read what was there? And what happens if you lose the ticket in the chaos of the kitchen? One solution is employing a KDS, which helps to bring calm to your kitchen while providing efficiency and maintaining quality.
Through Your Restaurant Website
Having a restaurant website is a great way to build rapport with your audience, and is an effective way to receive off-premise orders. If the order came in through your website, you have more control over both how the order is routed internally, as well as how you can relay order information to your guests. If it’s through your website, then you control how the APIs communicate and provide real-time data to customers, including accurate wait times on deliveries. You can also route the data internally wherever you’d like, including straight to your KDS, as to avoid any potential confusion.
Businesses like GrubHub, UberEats, and DoorDash continue to cement their niche in the restaurant ecosystem, netting approximately 10 billion in 2019. When a guest places an order through a third-party vendor, how is that order received? Above, we discussed how APIs allow communication between a third-party service and a restaurant. Barring special circumstances, these APIs will only speak with one device —the POS— which is the most direct route for guests to place an order. Unfortunately, that limits the ability of restaurateurs to provide order ready times and bottlenecks your data analytics efforts.
Restaurant Data and Analytics – Getting the Whole Picture
Let’s pause for a moment to consider how your orders are routed, as you will have traffic from in-house and off-premise flowing in simultaneously. While it’s true that all of your orders will go to your kitchen, preparing them as they come in can create a challenge as in-house and off-premise orders compete for preparation time. By using an integrated system, operators can use real-time restaurant analytics to see all of their orders. Some kitchen display systems provide a dashboard view that can segment by order destination, giving you a full picture of your in-house, off-premise, and walk-in orders.
While accessing those metrics in the moment is critical to balancing your incoming orders and processing them to the satisfaction of each customer, data analytics is a useful tool you can use after business hours as well. Through data analytics, you can assess pain points in your restaurant’s operation, and plan for them in advance. For example, in using data analytics, you may determine times when off-premise traffic is heaviest, and staff accordingly to satisfy all customer demands. Depending on your analytics, you might even consider opening a ghost kitchen to supplement your needs.
How the Order is Made
Whether through a paper ticket or an electronic order, the next stop for the order is your kitchen. Some KDS feature capacity management, helps restaurateurs and staff to measure and optimize their maximum output while sustaining quality. Capacity management features options like order routing, which paces meal preparation times, or load balancing, which allows the system to direct orders to the right station at the right time, all designed to enhance your operations.
There are many solutions to ensuring that your in-house and off-premise orders receive equal attention. Some KDS are customizable, allowing you to separate orders by type by different tabs or color schemes. That gives your kitchen staff the ability to make an informed decision as to how to address long lines. Likewise, you can train your expo station staff to help mitigate the flow of traffic by serving as customer advocates; they can see the wait times and when delivery drivers have arrived, and let your staff know accordingly.
What’s in the Box?
After the order is completed, but before it’s gone out into the world beyond the kitchen, it’s important to know that you’ve included everything from the proper order to the napkins and utensils, so that you don’t leave anything out. There are a few quality assurance methods worth considering here, including the use of sticker printers to label each box and tag-on-touch functionality to mark off only the completed aspects of orders without losing the whole order.
Expo Station to Station
As we mentioned above, your expo station is a staging ground for your in-house and off-premise orders. Through that, you can train your expo station staff to advocate for your guests by checking orders for quality, and by getting a visual measure of what is needed in real-time as it comes up. Your expo station area offers your staff one more opportunity to identify pain points in your restaurant while guaranteeing a high quality of service.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
At this point, the order was placed, transmitted either by analog or digital means to your kitchen, prepared, and checked by your expo station. Your final step is making sure that the order gets to the customer. Your choices here are straightforward: hire dedicated delivery staff, or work with a third-party. For the former, check your data analytics to see if you have the traffic to warrant that hire.
If you build your own internal delivery staff, you might consider only offering deliveries during the weekend or at peak times of traffic to test the waters. Bear in mind that while this may be a costly step, hiring a delivery staff allows you to keep control of a critical off-premise variable, the time of service for the order to reach its destination.
Delivery Quality Control
If you work with a third-party vendor, make sure you take a few precautions ahead of time. First, make sure that you mark the time of completion on the order itself. While you can’t change what happens to the order once it is literally out of your hands, you can show your work to the customer. Second, make sure to keep records of what companies you have worked with and what the average delivery times are. If you notice particular third-party vendors take too long, consider working with a different delivery service.
Remember: your guests expect off-premise options, and they’re worth your effort. Whatever you do, make certain that you consider your variables and take the steps that work best for you, but make sure you always deliver on your promises to your customers. By using integrated, automated technology, you can enhance your delivery experience by routing your orders to manage your capacity, freeing up your staff to focus on the guest experience. Learning simplify your restaurant delivery service isn’t easy, but one that can yield great rewards.
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Lee Leet worked as a consultant for a major quick-service restaurant and was tasked with creating a state-of-the-art kitchen solution for their multi-brand concept. He saw an opportunity there, quit his consulting job, and created his own company to build that system—when he completed it, that company even purchased it for use. His original mission was always to create innovative solutions that fill in the gaps for restaurants, and he founded QSR Automations to continue working toward that goal. Through iterations of kitchen automation, a guest management system for restaurants, a consumer application that allows diners to find restaurants nearby, and so much more, we embrace the change that restaurateurs, diners, and other employees face every day.