Should My Restaurant Start Offering Delivery?

Should I pivot my business model and start offering delivery?

That’s the question on everyone’s mind lately, especially in light of COVID-19. Many restaurants across the United States and Canada have been forced to shut their dining areas, and lockdown. It’s important as a business owner, to explore all the options for keeping your business open.

But is delivery something you should pursue?

First question: before the current crisis, had you ever considered delivery for your customers? If not, why? There are some very valid reasons to avoid delivery, whether done in-house, or through a third party:

  • Your menu items spoil quickly, or need to be served immediately.
  • You’re not set up for taking orders over the phone, or online.
  • You’re worried about controlling your brand experience.

These worries don’t go away just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. In fact, a few more can be added to the list:

  • How do I keep my employees safe while out delivering?
  • Am I able to keep up with orders if one or more of my staff are out sick?
  • What happens during a lockdown? Will my restaurant still be permitted to deliver? Will my employees still be able to come to work?

Now take a deep breath and think about whether this is still the right option for your restaurant. Is it the right option for your customers?

Next, let’s take a look at the logistics of delivery. Are you ready to take it on in-house, or are you planning to use a third party? If you plan to offer alcohol delivery, like some breweries are doing, you’ll need to do it in-house. This is because in many states and provinces, your business is the seller, and therefore liable if IDs aren’t properly checked.

If you are planning to offer delivery in house, here are a few things to investigate:

  • Car Insurance: If you’re sending out an employee to do deliveries in their own vehicle, do you and the driver have the appropriate insurance? Talk to your insurance company and find out what you will need.
  • Taking Orders: How do you plan to accept orders? Lately, I’ve seen a lot of restaurants and local businesses accepting orders through multiple channels: direct messages, text, and forms on their websites. If you offer this many methods for your customers to place orders, the likelihood of losing orders increases. Choose one method—phone, online orders, or email—and then speak with your point of sale provider. They may have a delivery add-on that you can install quickly to track delivery orders and their destinations. Restaurant delivery systems are usually very comprehensive, and if you want to continue offering delivery long term, it might be worth investigating a delivery point of sale system.

  • Delivery Packaging: Do you have the right containers for your food? How will it taste upon delivery? My coworker wrote an article on delivery packaging here. Remember, this is a pandemic. Proper packaging is extremely important for keeping your customers healthy.
  • Keeping Your Drivers Safe: If your drivers get sick, you can no longer offer delivery. It’s vital that you keep customers safe and healthy. Many restaurants are offering contactless delivery in lieu of their normal methods. This is where they call customers before they arrive, and place the order on the ground where the customer can retrieve it. This leads us into our next topic:
  • Accepting Payment: How will your customers pay? Are you set up for collecting payment over the phone or online? This is another conversation to have with your point of sale provider and payment processor. Taking credit card payments without the card present may impact your processing rates.

If you are considering going the route of using a third-party for delivery, there are a few different logistical matters to consider. In normal circumstances, in-house is better for the restaurant's brand, but these aren’t normal circumstances.

  • Picking a Partner: There are many things to consider when selecting a third-party delivery provider such as UberEats, DoorDash, or Postmates. There is a lot of information available online about the benefits and drawbacks of each service, and about how to choose between them. Do your research, and don’t just leap into a contract.
  • Delivery Packaging: Just as we stated above, all orders for delivery need to be packaged properly for the safety of your customers, and to ensure the quality of your food.
  • Point of Sale Integration: Don’t risk losing orders just because they came in through a third party. Look into integrating the third party you chose with your point of sale system. Chowly, a company that provides these integrations, is offering a free trial period in response to the pandemic.
  • Keeping Your Staff Safe: Third-party drivers picking up orders can put your staff at risk. How do you plan to minimize that risk? I saw an excellent example of that yesterday while picking up takeout. The restaurant had set up a pick up station outside, where orders were brought out to third party delivery drivers and customers. Only staff members entered and exited the restaurant.