Menu selection, packaging are among the keys to successful food delivery.
Foodservice operators are adapting to the reality that some of their best customers might never even walk in their front door.
As consumers increasingly embrace food delivery — and are expected to continue to do so well into the foreseeable future — the onus is on operators to ensure that the experience their customers have away from the restaurant is on par with the experience they enjoy when they dine on-premises.
That may require some investment in specialized packaging and some careful thought about how to maintain the quality, integrity and temperature of snacks and dessert items in transit.
According to research from Datassential, consumers say cookies and brownies handle the rigors of delivery better than any other foods, with 86% saying they travel “well” or “very well.”
For other snacks and dessert items, operators should evaluate each item individually to determine the best strategy for ensuring its deliverability.
Divide and conquer
One of the keys to delivering desserts successfully is to keep hot and cold foods separate. In fact, third-party food delivery specialist Grubhub suggests that restaurants use separate, insulated hot and cold bags for such items.
“When it comes to food, temperature is just as important as taste, and transporting hot and cold foods together can compromise the safety and integrity of the dishes,” says Yera Ha, a spokesperson at Grubhub.
In addition, Ha suggests placing all sauces — including dessert sauces such as chocolate sauce or caramel — in their own, sealed containers, and then wrapping the containers in plastic wrap as an extra precaution.
Finish at home
At Overland Park, Kan.-based Decadent A Coffee and Dessert Bar, founder Jeff Martin says the company has been working hard to solve the challenges of food delivery for the concept’s high-end desserts.
One way he is doing this is to suggest that customers finish off the product at home. For example, Martin recommends placing the chain’s signature Skillet Cookie in the microwave for 15 seconds before eating.
“It comes warm, and you could eat it that way, but we want you to warm it up a bit more,” says Martin.
The key, he says, is to include instructions about how to finish the product, “to make it as great as if you walked in the four walls.”
Similarly, customers also place the ice cream on the waffles themselves to create another of Decadent’s signature dishes.
Find the right containers
Ha of Grubhub suggests that operators carefully consider the size, shape and type of delivery packaging for snacks and dessert items — “containers that can keep churros crispy or handle the moisture of crème brûlée.”
“Restaurants should also prioritize the size of containers,” she says. “Too much empty space gives ingredients room to slide around and mix together while cramped packaging can have dessert spilling out at the seams.”
In a recent blog post about food delivery, wholesaler U.S. Foods notes that operators should match the quality of the packaging to the restaurant concept.
“Pricier food dictates higher-quality packaging,” the blog states. “However, food integrity must be maintained no matter the price point.”
At Decadent, which delivers a lot of ice cream products, Martin says he tested a few different coolers before finding one that can handle the transport of frozen dishes.
“The key is to make sure whatever the customer would have gotten in the store is what they get at home,” he says.
Hire the right personnel
Perhaps the most important consideration for food delivery is the people who are doing the actual delivering.
Martin says he’s in the process of testing in-house delivery at Decadent to help ensure that customers enjoy the experience.
“The key for us is the employees themselves,” he says. “They are our employees from the time they leave until the time they make the delivery at the customers’ home.”
Even though Martin anticipates that in-house food delivery will be costly at first, he hopes to drive up off-premises sales to cover the incremental costs. Currently, delivery orders account for about 10% of sales, he says.
“[Delivery] is the wave of the future,” says Martin. “It’s almost like social media — you just have to figure out how to manage it, and how to do it better than the next guy.”
It is important to plan carefully before putting your snacks and dessert items on the road. Consider which items travel best, and take all the steps necessary to ensure that customers can enjoy the experience as much as they would in your own establishment.