May 4, 2020
Here’s one thing that every restaurateur knows to be true: it’s not possible to box up the experience of enjoying a restaurant. “Restaurant Delivery” is inherently a concept that will always fail to achieve what its name implies. A restaurant experience is not an Amazon order of a product that can delight you when it shows up at your door. That’s because, as everyone knows, a restaurant experience is about far more than food. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for people to want to have some of that experience in their home. How a restaurant chooses to extend that brand experience is up to the restaurant.
Prior to COVID-19, most restaurants who delivered did so on the terms given to them by delivery companies or even their guests. We don’t mean financial terms, although those were usually unfavorable for the restaurant. Most restaurants just gave people what they asked for. By this, we mean they participated in delivery by making some portion of their restaurant menu available to be boxed up and brought to the customer by someone else. They usually even charged the same prices for those items, which had the unintended consequence of devaluing the experience of having the same food in the dining room. (Why should that food offered by delivery cost the same as if a guest were taking a seat in the restaurant? Most guests don’t understand how a restaurant's P&L works to be able to answer the financial reasons for this.) Most operators treated this revenue stream as if it were the same customer and occasion as if they were in the dining room.
There is a famous Henry Ford quote, “If I would have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Steve Jobs said something similar relating to the difficulty of testing innovation with focus groups; with innovation people don’t really know what they want until you show it to them. The reality is that restaurants have a new opportunity to innovate their carryout and delivery experience. Fulfilling a guest’s desire to enjoy something from your restaurant outside your doors doesn’t have to mean soggy food eaten from a box. Rather, delivery and carryout can become an extension of a restaurant brand versus an attempt to package up the restaurant experience. This is an opportunity to re-imagine what you do in a different environment. It’s not just a revenue stream that we believe will be necessary in a socially-distanced world. It’s a creative opportunity.
“How can we do delivery?” is the wrong question. Rather, the question is “How can we make it possible for guests to experience what we offer at home?”
Re-framing the question opens a world of possibilities, many of which we’ve seen restaurants exploring during the stay-at-home. Family meals, meal kits, special carry out services and more are being “tested,” albeit in imperfect circumstances. These offerings can be cross-marketed with a dining room experience; one does not need to replace the other. They can be complementary and additive.
So, What’s on the Menu?
We think there are a few ways to explore these off-premise extensions of your restaurant experience. The most obvious is to start with your dining room menu, but we think that family style meals, meal kits and even some items available for purchase as add-ons to your dinner experience present a number of creative opportunities.
Inspired by the Dining Room
Create a delivery menu that’s inspired by your dining room menu, but focusing only on a few dishes that will reheat well and can withstand travel. You can also add dishes not on your dining room menu but better suited for delivery as appropriate for your concept. Consider giving your delivery experience its own name, so that it’s clear that this is a taste of your restaurant experience, and not meant to be a substitute. Don’t forget the drinks. Premixed batched cocktails, wine and beer continue to be a revenue opportunity in many markets. Consider presentations and containers that enhance as well as surprise and delight.
Delivery as Test Model
Have you always wanted your next restaurant to be something different? Test it out with a delivery only model if kitchen space and team have the capacity. Treat it as a delivery only pop-up run out of your own restaurant. You can even make it only available a few days a week. It’s an opportunity to pull in some extra revenue while exercising your creativity and conducting valuable market research.
While guests may not order share plates in the near future, family meals for home have been growing in appeal. Offer a selection of meals that will appeal to groups of two or four. Don’t forget to think about a dedicated section for younger guests. Perhaps this menu has a few packages that are available all the time, or maybe it’s an offering that changes each week. It could be offered every day or maybe only on one special day a week. These can be opportunities to add an additional “dining occasion,” giving guests a new reason to build your restaurant into their weekly routine. Just be careful to give this type of new offering enough presence and time to build a following, if it is departure from your everyday concept.
Similar to Family Meals, this can be another way for a restaurant brand to build on the popularity of mail order meal kits. While you may not want to send home your signature dishes with reheating instructions, you may be able to provide some new items that can be made at home. This could be an opportunity to partner with your favorite purveyors, offering special cuts of meat or seafood that you provide preparation or finishing instructions. Don’t forget to include drinks! Paired wines, cocktails, house-made soda or teas can complete the experience and provide an upsell opportunity. Similar to family meals, this type of offering will need to have a good marketing plan in place to give it the best chance to succeed. Consider all online channels and make sure to cross-promote as much as possible.
Available When You Dine-In
Another way to extend your restaurant’s reach is by offering a few select “to-go” items to diners. Perhaps it’s a changing soup that you offer for tomorrow’s lunch, or a basket of pastries for the morning. Maybe a signature granola or even a special pancake mix. What about a signature lasagne? Can you make a few signature items that you offer to your dinner guests for the next morning? Again, this is about working to create another “dining experience” for your guests.
Professional chefs have a battery of high quality ingredients, stocks and sauces at the ready. Most home cooks don’t. It’s quite possible that your biggest fans would love a batch of your ravioli or a pint of your chowder that they can pick up and have on hand at the ready.
Make Your Own Rules
However you determine to extend your restaurant experience, be sure to think through how it will feel to the guest from start to finish. You don’t need to settle for simply putting a link to a third party delivery app on your website. Make sure it’s integrated and consider:
What’s the online guest experience?
How do you accept payment?
How do you achieve contactless or low-contact delivery?
Can you do mobile order for pickup?
How will you cross-promote between on and off premise?
How will you ensure that you are building a relationship with the customer, even though they are not coming to you as a guest in your restaurant?
This last question is perhaps the most important. Third party delivery apps can be a valuable vehicle, but they also put another person between you and your guests. Be sure that you are finding ways to grow that relationship on your own.