During the COVID-19 pandemic, delivery and carryout orders sustained Gino Shalaby and his upstart eatery, Memo’s Pizza in Zebulon, North Carolina.
For nine months, the 24-seat dining room at Shalaby’s one-year old pizzeria sat empty. Though Memo’s dining room has since reopened, carryout and delivery still account for 75 percent of revenue.
“For a new restaurant like ours, carryout and delivery orders have been so important to getting business and keeping things going,” Shalaby says.
Largely driven by necessity, safety and convenience, restaurant carryout and delivery orders soared amid the pandemic – and they show no signs of relenting anytime soon.
Restaurateurs know it, too, which is why so many have adopted technology to help facilitate off-premises orders. In fact, all 150 respondents to a recent Panasonic survey of foodservice decision makers said the pandemic increased their sense of urgency regarding technological adoption. For so many restaurant operators, technology presents a path to alleviating labor pressures and costs while improving staff workflows, modernizing operations and ensuring customer satisfaction.
“The last [two years] have taught restaurateurs the importance of having the right tech strategy in place and the ability to pivot in line with changing market conditions,” says Chris Lybeer, the chief strategy officer at Revel Systems, a leading point-of-sale system for restaurant operations.
Tech table stakes and beyond
With so many restaurant customer transactions – nearly 70 percent by some accounts – now conducted beyond the traditional face-to-face ordering experience and rapid technological growth in areas such as payments, digital ordering, delivery logistics and more, restaurants are not surprisingly embracing carryout and delivery tech like never before.
Online ordering has been the principal starting point for many, a way to offer guests the convenience of ordering ahead and selecting when and how they receive their order. This has naturally facilitated contactless operations, such as digital payments and curbside pickup.
But when it comes to tidying up delivery and carryout operations, restaurants still have a ways to go – and plenty of technology they might leverage to get there.
“The COVID-19 outbreak may have disrupted business as usual in the restaurant industry and caused some extreme changes, but it has also roused many concepts to an opportunity to accelerate tech trends, fast-track transformation and re-imagine operations,” says Shyam Rao, co-founder and CEO of Punchh, a popular restaurant platform that blends relationship management, loyalty and analytics.
In particular, restaurants have increasingly explored ways they might leverage technology to drive guest satisfaction and simplify carryout and delivery processes.
Rao, whose company works with some 200 top restaurant brands, has noticed restaurants unveil self-service kiosks, automated checkout counters and smart locker solutions designed to accelerate getting orders into customers’ hands while freeing up staff. Meanwhile, Menufy co-founder Hoang Nguyen tells Pizza Today that his firm, which provides online ordering for independent eateries and small chains across the U.S., is currently developing a feature that will enable restaurants to assign a pickup slot for online orders so that customers and delivery drivers can grab their order from a designated shelf or counter spot upon arrival.
Revel’s Lybeer also notes the growing adoption of order-ready boards. These on-site display boards provide fully branded visual and color-coded order information for customers with real-time status updates on their order.
“With the capacity to directly connect to the kitchen display and point-of-sale systems, [these boards] create greater
order efficiencies for restaurants and their customers,” Lybeer says.
Escaping third-party’s grip
Though many pizzerias embraced third-party delivery as an important lifeline during the pandemic, that ready-made solution came with a cost, namely high commission fees and relinquishing customer data. Those downsides prompted many to embrace tech for mobile ordering, curbside solutions and in-house delivery programs to minimize reliance on third-party delivery.
“This helps [restaurants] retain branding and data control and reduce customer confusion by offering a direct point of contact for issues,” Lybeer says. “The more entities involved in an order, the more risk there is of a bad customer experience.”
Punchh Pickup, for example, allows operators to manage pickup orders from a customizable web-based console, providing real-time location and arrival estimates that enable clear, automated communication with customers through a personalized mobile and web experience. This, Rao says, helps restaurants “create that frictionless, end-to-end pickup experience for customers and employees in-store, at the curb or at the counter.”
In adding tech, savvy restaurant operators are also seeking solutions that either offer various capabilities in a single system or can be easily integrated with other offerings.
To that point, Delivery XT from Revel provides a logistical solution for driver and delivery management that helps restaurants strengthen their delivery service from their Revel POS. Key features include live delivery tracking, customer notifications, a driver app for delivery fulfillment and live driver monitoring.
For restaurants wanting to maintain their own branded online ordering, carryout and delivery systems, tech integration isn’t merely important, it’s necessary. Automatically printing an online order to the kitchen printer, for instance, can accelerate fulfillment time and reduces the risk of human error.
“It is increasingly imperative that businesses have a future-proof, transactional platform with an open API that can rapidly integrate new core and partner technologies as they are embraced by the market and consumers,” Lybeer says.
Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.