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Food On Demand: The Mobile Phenomenon

You’ve successfully scaled Mount Everest. You’re triumphant, tired and, not surprisingly, quite hungry. Granola isn’t going to cut it, so you whip out your smartphone and order a spicy curry dish from one of Kathmandu’s best restaurants. Within 30 minutes a drone is hovering over you, its mechanical arm outstretched, bearing food. 

With the worlds of technology and food colliding at almost every touchpoint, it’s not unreasonable to think humanless delivery could become mainstream in the not-so-distant future—even if delivery all the way to Everest may be a bit far-fetched.

We are launching Food on Demand as a regular feature to explore every aspect of the mobile food phenomenon, as customers demand food when, where and how they want it, and owner/operators have to figure out how to serve those needs. Logistics, mobile apps, point-of-sale integration, payment processing and menu management are just some of the topics we’ll tackle. And that’s before we dig into delivery without humans.

“I believe that Amazon has an interest in getting into this space with drones, and I believe that Google wants to get into this space with driverless cars,” said Noah Glass, CEO of online ordering platform developer Olo. “I’m quite sure that as I’m the CEO of Olo, we will see delivery drivers that are not human.”

While food-delivery startup DoorDash might not become DroneDash this year, the pressure on restaurant brands to provide seamless online and mobile ordering has never been higher. Weekly usage of delivery services has almost doubled in the past five years, reports Technomic in a joint 2015 study with American Express, and the services themselves are pulling in millions of investment dollars. It’s clear food delivery is more than a tasty trend.

Stan Chia, senior vice president of operations at GrubHub, said offering delivery makes sense for restaurants looking to fill kitchen capacity and increase transactions. In GrubHub tests of delivery, restaurants saw a five times increase in transactions over carryout. For those consumers, getting food when and where they want it is fairly simple: tap a mobile ordering app, choose a restaurant, order, pay and then relax until a text from your delivery driver announces your meal’s arrival.

But before restaurant operators jump in thinking, “I can get more sales!”, they must consider the aforementioned myriad of issues. Then there’s the worry about brand damage when delivery drivers become the face of the restaurant, and even potential legal ramifications. In Seattle and San Francisco, some restaurant owners are finding themselves at odds with delivery service Postmates, which also entered the Twin Cities market last year, and doesn’t ask for permission from the restaurants before listing their menus.

Calling itself a “pickup service” rather than a delivery service, Postmates links consumers to restaurant listings, takes orders, then calls them into the restaurant and a Postmates courier picks up and delivers the food. After numerous attempts to get the menus of his three restaurants removed from the site, Seattle restaurant owner David Meinert hired an attorney, and the state’s restaurant association grappling with how to address emerging concerns.  

But there are numerous restaurants successfully integrating delivery into their overall operations.

Minneapolis restaurant Hell’s Kitchen wanted to expand its reach through delivery, but purchasing vehicles, hiring drivers and paying for insurance were all things management decided it didn’t want to undertake. Enter Bite Squad, a Minneapolis-based delivery company that employs its own professional, uniformed drivers—whose photos pop up when customers track their orders—to run its fleet of branded Priuses. 

Customers place their orders online using Bite Squad’s mobile-friendly website; restaurants get the orders via a tablet; then a driver picks up and delivers the food. Bite Squad uses an algorithm that measures cooking time, how many orders are being placed, available drivers and even traffic flow to generate a precise arrival time. And customers can track their order in real time via GPS. 

Hell’s Kitchen was among the original 17 restaurants to launch with Bite Squad in 2012. Pat Forciea, Hell’s Kitchen president, said for a restaurant concerned with protecting its brand and providing top-end service, Bite Squad is a great fit. The restaurant saw 3,831 orders come through Bite Squad in 2014—1,746 from new customers—adding up to $136,000 in gross revenue.

Bite Squad General Manager Max Runke will talk more about how restaurants can expand their brand and increase revenue during the “Tackling the Food Delivery Phenomenon” panel at Foodservice News’ Restaurant Business Summit next month. Hot Indian Foods owner Amol Dixit, along with Molly Broder, owner of Broders' Pasta Bar, Cucina Italiana and Terzo, will join Runke for a discussion of the benefits and challenges of integrating delivery into a restaurant’s operation. Restaurant operators and chefs can register for the Tuesday, April 12, summit at www.foodservicenews.net.

Perhaps that discussion will lead to someone finding a way to get food delivered to Mount Everest. 

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