Food delivery impacts operations, packaging

October 8, 2018

The ongoing growth of food delivery and takeout is having a broad impact on foodservice operations, including areas such as store design and packaging.

Restaurants which have long focused on dine-in customers are tweaking their traditional approach to customer service to enhance the experience for customers no matter where they choose to consume their orders.

Delivery now represents 1.7 billion annual foodservice visits, according to The NPD Group. And by 2022, 11 percent of U.S. restaurant sales are expected to come from delivery orders, up from an estimated 6 percent last year, according to Morgan Stanley Research cited by technology news service Recode.

The increase comes amid an expanding roster of third-party delivery services including DoorDash, Uber Eats, Caviar and Postmates.

In addition to design innovations such as dedicated pickup areas for delivery drivers and for customers who order online or via mobile orders, restaurants are also modifying their packaging to ensure that the food they deliver stands up to the rigors of the journey and arrives at the proper temperature.

“One very big consideration is that the packaging should do justice to the quality of your product,” says Jim Rand, catering practice leader at ezCater, who previously oversaw catering operations at P.F. Chang’s and Panera Bread. At those companies, Rand says every product that was available for delivery was tested in its to-go packaging to ensure that the temperature and quality held up under delivery conditions.

Here are three considerations for foodservice operators to help them to prepare for the expanding world of mobile ordering and food delivery:

1. Consider a dedicated area which serves both delivery drivers and customers picking up takeout orders.

Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, for example, added its first dedicated area for order pickup in a new store prototype it opened last year in Lake Worth, Texas. The area has its own entrance and dedicated cash registers.

“It’s a growing segment of the business in general,” says Ian Baines, president of Cheddar’s, in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News. “It is much more efficient and easier for the guest.”

Likewise Tender Greens, Culver City, Calif., has added a dedicated area for delivery and order pickup at four of its 28 locations. The area itself is divided into separate areas for food delivery and pickup, and includes a stock of to-go utensils and bags for customers picking up their food.

2. Consider package branding and product labeling.

Food delivery and pickup offers a prime opportunity for operators to reinforce their brand message through packaging.

Rand of ezCater, which orders meals delivered for its staff twice a week, says he’s “amazed” at how many restaurant companies deliver to the business with no branding at all on the packaging.

“You don’t even know who the food’s coming from,” he says.

By contrast, a recent food delivery from a vegan restaurant included extensive branding, along with ingredient labeling on each item in the order.

“It actually created an off-premises dining experience that was, while not the same as going to their restaurant, still an experience for us,” says Rand.

3. Consider product temperature and integrity.

At Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which recently began testing food delivery in several markets using third-party delivery firm Uber Eats, the company is rethinking its to-go packaging to better handle the rigors of delivery, says Daniel Gonzalez, head of marketing for Popeyes, North America.

“Restaurant guests often choose to take their Popeyes chicken to-go, so the packaging is already designed to travel,” he says. “We are making some changes such as moving from plastic to paper bags for delivery to keep our chicken crispy and our Louisiana flavors locked in.”

Popeyes is also exploring other modifications, including new packaging for “harder-to-hold items” such as fries, says Gonzalez.

The most important factors to consider in designing packaging for food delivery, he says, are:

  • Durability.
  • Ease of use.
  • Temperature to ensure the food remains hot.

Rand of ezCater suggests that when operators are delivering both hot and cold items in the same order, such as entrées with beverages or desserts, they should consider packaging the hot and cold items in completely separate bags or boxes. At Panera, where catered breakfasts often include both hot breakfast sandwiches and cold yogurt parfaits, the chain divided the suitcase-like delivery box in half using inserts, which helps insulate the items from each other. In addition, to maintain product integrity, another insert with holes cut in it holds the parfaits.

As food delivery, mobile ordering, and takeout continue to gain traction, operators need to ensure that their efforts in these areas reflect well on their brand in terms of the quality and experience provided. This includes not only making these services convenient for delivery companies and customers through store design, but also promoting the brand and protecting the quality of the product with the right packaging.