Evaluating delivery operations an essential step to a more efficient, productive delivery program
When it comes to pizza delivery, Andy Hooper isn’t messing around.
The president of the 41-unit fast casual & pizza chain, Hooper watched his Washington, D.C.-based company’s delivery business soar after the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. At the end of summer, Hooper reported that &pizza’s delivery sales had nearly doubled from its pre-pandemic rate and was now accounting for about one-third of total company sales. That reality only cemented Hooper’s commitment to delivery as a “primary channel” for &pizza.
“Pre-pandemic, many operators could afford to think about off-premise as a secondary or tertiary brand experience, but for many restaurateurs now, delivery is the first, and perhaps only, means a customer is interacting with a brand,” Hooper says. “That requires a completely different level of focus and investment.”
Ain’t that the truth.
An eye on delivery
As many restaurants shuttered dining rooms and Americans were confined to their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic, food delivery surged as consumers turned to their favorite restaurants for a taste of comfort, convenience and even an escape. For some pizzerias, the accelerating number of off-premise orders exposed flaws in their delivery systems and protocols, while others, even those with sound delivery operations in place, wisely hunted for ways to better handle the blitz – and continue to do so.
“Sticking with the status quo is unlikely to yield long-term value,” Hooper says of delivery, which many industry analysts predict will continue to rise as COVID-19 fears linger and winter’s looming presence minimizes the viability of outdoor dining throughout much of the country.
“You want to be ready,” says Scott Landers, co-founder of Figure 8 Logistics, a food delivery consulting agency headquartered in New York City.
Without a consistent, critical eye on delivery, Adam Oldenburg, the vice president of operations at the 65-unit, Wisconsin-based Toppers chain, says pizzerias can expose themselves to a litany of negative outcomes: a delivery program that yields low margins if not losses, potential lawsuits and compromised food quality and service times that threaten a brand’s marketplace reputation.
“All things we’d like to avoid,” says Oldenburg, noting that more than half of Toppers’ revenue comes from delivery orders. “You’re talking about a big chunk of the pie there.”
According to Landers, whose firm works with restaurants to build scalable and sustainable off-site business models, pizzeria operators should be focused on analyzing three areas to improve delivery operations: the guest experience; unit-level operations; and, finally, last-mile logistics.
The guest experience
To begin assessing delivery, Landers suggests operators themselves place phone and/or online orders at their stores and let the delivery process play out. Playing the role of customer, he says, will help an operator evaluate the store’s system and identify weak spots. Is the ordering process intuitive, smooth and streamlined? Does the pizza arrive hot, on time and as ordered? Does the packaging work?
“You can’t set it and forget it,” Landers says of a delivery program, adding that operators can also fine-tune operations and systems by monitoring customer feedback via online reviews, guest surveys or even contacting the delivery guest directly much like an in-store “table touch.” particularly in the coronavirus age, in which some folks stand wary of close personal contact, it’s particularly important pizzerias inspect measures respectful of guests’ personal space and safety concerns. To that point, &pizza launched “contactless delivery” in mid-March through its native delivery platform. Guests received an anonymized phone number for their delivery driver and could indicate their preference for “contactless” delivery. Hooper says this offering “met the needs of our customers and improved the overall delivery experience.”
Toppers similarly began offering contactless delivery within a week of the pandemic, leveraging software enhancements that provided secure credit card payment and allowed guests to tip Toppers’ drivers before checkout.
“Today, it’s most important to be safe, and that’s what the guest wants,” Oldenburg says.
It’s crucial to note that delivery works in concert with other parts of the operation. If orders are slow to enter the kitchen or prep lags, then delivery suffers regardless of drivers’ hustle.
Landers and Oldenburg both suggest evaluating the basics of order processing and kitchen operations to find any negative impact on load times. Do orders head straight into the kitchen or does some second, and likely avoidable, step interrupt that flow? Are there ways to improve prep time and kitchen workflow? Do certain menu items delay kitchen staff?
“Every pizza is a race until the driver gets into the vehicle,” Oldenburg says.
Operators might also review the number of deliveries drivers do each hour and turn to drivers for insights on where they encounter delays, remembering that inefficiencies likely hamper their earning potential as well. Are drivers waiting on the kitchen or is the kitchen waiting on them? Are they getting hung up with guests? Such frontline perspective opens the door to improvements.
“Drivers have a fixed cost and you want to maximize the number of orders they’re doing while on the clock,” Landers says.
On the last-mile front, Landers urges operators to evaluate delivery zones and traffic patterns and to investigate cutting out delay-causing areas.
“Because you always want drivers moving,” he says.
Oldenburg says Toppers’ analysis regarding last-mile delivery largely focuses on geographic areas. A nine-minute drive time is each store’s baseline, though stores might eliminate – or increase the delivery fee for – specific areas within that radius due to density, customer frequency or frequent traffic pitfalls.
“Every delivery that’s five minutes late affects every delivery after that,” Oldenburg says.
Finally, Landers reminds operators to keep tabs on gear such as delivery bags and driver technology that can help improve food quality and logistics efficiency. To the latter point, Toppers utilizes GPS car toppers from Drivosity that show where Toppers drivers are at any moment. When Toppers in-house staff see a driver near the restaurant for pickup, for example, they can then ready pizzas in hot bags, grab sodas and prepare credit card slips for a quick, immediate load in the driver’s vehicle.
Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.