It’s no secret that the pandemic took a major toll on the restaurant industry. Due to lockdown orders and social distancing guidelines during the height of the chaos, droves of struggling restaurants added delivery service to their menus in an effort to salvage as much business as possible. Predictably, the move was a big hit and is here to stay by popular demand.

A once-novel but now practically expected option, delivery is a trending luxury that’s no longer just for pizza and Chinese. Even as restrictions are being lifted around the world and people are leaving the house again, delivery remains a popular choice. What started as a temporary solution to keep the restaurant industry afloat has evolved into something much more refined and—luckily for us—much more permanent as well.

You may be interested in taking advantage of this trend before getting left behind but aren’t sure whether it’s right for your business. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits and challenges of food delivery, plus how to get started.

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Why Add Food Delivery to My Restaurant Business Plan?

A report by investment bank UBS (and cited here by Forbes) predicts online food sales will increase annually by 20%, making the food delivery industry worth an astounding $365 billion by the year 2030. There’s certainly money to be made in the delivery game, but you have to play to win. If you don’t offer food delivery, customers who have come to expect and rely on that service will order from someone who will provide it.

If that sounds a little harsh, consider the fact that today’s food delivery customer base is composed primarily of Millenials, the generation notorious for their tech-savvy lifestyle and high expectations. Millennials are the largest generation so far, and not only are they three times as likely to order food for delivery than their parents, but they’re also spending a greater percentage of their budgets on prepared food compared to other generations. As Millennials reach the pinnacle of their careers and earning potential, the impact their spending habits will have on the economy will be impossible to ignore.

Read also: 5 Tips for Attracting Millennials to Your Restaurant (And Why You Need To)

Besides cashing in on a trend with big earning potential, including delivery in your list of services offerings has the hidden bonus of improving your online presence. You’ll be more likely to rank higher in search results for terms like “local food delivery” simply by including that verbiage in your online menu and social media profiles, thereby allowing you to engage with a wider—but still effectively targeted—range of potential customers with less overhead than a traditional dine-in experience.

Making the Most of Food Delivery: How to Streamline Your Efforts for Maximum Profitability

Having a solid plan in place before you go all-in on the effort and expense of adding a new service to your business is a critical foundation for success in your endeavor, but incorporating delivery service into an existing business takes less effort than you might expect.

Non-tangible necessities like a good marketing strategy and appropriate insurance coverage are just as important as the list of materials you’ll need to keep in stock, but if your establishment already offers to-go orders, you’re well on your way!

Start by designating a space in your kitchen or frontline as the “home base” for delivery orders and evaluate whether that space is properly equipped. Do you have enough shelving to store disposables and organize orders? What about counter space for queuing and checking orders? Is there a place to keep products warm or cold while they wait for the delivery person?

Next, you’ll need to develop a delivery order procedure and train your staff to follow it. From taking orders to inspecting each one before it goes out for delivery, each step in the process has the potential to create a positive customer experience…or a negative one. This is why establishing clear expectations with your team is crucial for running a smooth and profitable delivery operation.

Thoroughly consider the process of getting an order prepped and out the door and identify what equipment and supplies you’ll need to make it happen. Keeping the delivery area stocked and organized will ensure a smooth process from start to finish.

Preparing an Order for Delivery

Preparing the food for delivery requires disposable products like takeout boxes or bags, cups with lids and straws, drink pouches with straws, pre-packaged utensils, or napkins.

Most of these items are pretty standard for takeout orders, but some restaurants work to make the takeout experience feel more like a dine-in experience by including extras like disposable plates or serving utensils.

Holding & Inspecting Delivery Orders

Once the order has been properly packaged, it will move to a holding area to be inspected and taken for delivery. If your restaurant offers to-go orders, you probably already have a dedicated space that can be used for this phase of the process. Such an area should include shelving to organize orders, food warmers, heat lamps, or holding cabinets to keep hot food at serving temperatures, refrigerated units to hold cold foods at safe temperatures, and a clean surface for inspecting orders before they head out the door.

Delivering the Order

Finally, determine the logistics of getting the order to your customer. Depending on your delivery order volume, you’ll either appoint a staff member to handle deliveries as needed or hire a dedicated driver or drivers to manage deliveries. If you decide to go either of these routes, you’ll need to secure a way to keep orders at serving temperature while en route to your customer in order to minimize product waste and maximize customer satisfaction. Insulated bags and food storage boxes are up to the task and are available in a range of styles. Some have backpack straps for walking or bike delivery and others even have the option to add a heated or chilled element, ensuring a perfect temperature at delivery. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to consult your insurance company and make sure you’re covered in the event of an accident or an especially negative customer experience.

Depending on your menu, the physical act of getting the order to your customer may require temperature-controlled food holding and warming/cooling equipment like insulated delivery bags and, of course, a dependable vehicle staffed with an equally dependable driver.

This collection of delivery bags and food transportation equipment can help keep orders of all sizes at serving temperature until it’s time to eat.

If you’d prefer not to handle the deliveries, there’s also the option of partnering with a third-party delivery service. This is attractive to plenty of restaurant owners because they’re able to focus on what they do best while leaving the logistics up to the delivery service—for a fee. DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Postmates are some the most popular third-party delivery services around, and their fees can run as high as 30% of the order total. Besides fees, there are many other pros and cons of using third-party food delivery services to consider when making your decision.

Read also: Why You Should Consider Using Restaurant Delivery Services

The bottom line…

The main challenge of adding delivery service to your business plan is having less control over the delivery process than you’re used to having with the dine-in experience. Factors like heavy traffic or a wrong turn can lead to an order arriving cold, soggy, or partially smashed. Your arrangement with a third-party delivery app may assign a rude driver to your order. Mistakes in an order may not be discovered until after it reaches the customer.

It’s important to realize that while some of these problems are out of your hands, focusing on things like following a quality control process, using the right equipment, and staying well-stocked with necessary materials will result in a more positive overall customer experience.

Adding food delivery is an exciting opportunity to expand your business and reach new customers, but it requires careful planning and execution. While the prep work involved might be enough to make you think twice about starting such a project, it’s important to remember that food delivery is the best way to stay competitive in today’s restaurant climate. Besides, with the right attitude and the right equipment, success in delivery is coming right up!

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