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Pack It Up

Pack It Up

Packaging can make or break a delivery experience.

Part of having a good delivery service is having the proper packaging. For a customer who has excitedly waited upwards of an hour for their food, there’s nothing worse than for it to show up soggy, cold, smashed or deconstructed when it wasn’t meant to arrive that way.

That’s why, no matter if you’re delivering burgers, pizza, salad or a fully composed chicken or steak entrée with sides, you need to research what methods work best for your menu items. And that also means not every dish you serve in the restaurant is appropriate for your take-out menu either.

“We start by working with restaurant operators to see how their menu on Grubhub should look like,” said Stan Chia, Grubhub’s chief operating officer. “Let’s not put on something that won’t travel well. Maybe a taco comes deconstructed.”

Grubhub does a lot of testing on its end to ensure the gear their delivery drivers use makes sense when transporting items from the various restaurants — and does so to continue to drive improvement.

Chia said it’s important for restaurants to think about a few things before committing to a delivery partner. First, do you have a partner that will help you fine-tune your menu to weed out items that might not travel well? Second, do you have the right containers for certain food items so they’ll travel well from a temperature perspective? And third, is the food stable so it doesn’t slide around, which for things like pizza is crucial so that cheese doesn’t slide off, leaving a saucy mess in the box?

At Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, which has locations in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas, they use a sticker labeling system to show customers not only what is in each container, but also any reheating instructions, making it easier for customers, who often offer positive feedback on the packaging. The restaurant also packs dish components individually and uses special carryout bags that specifically fit their to-go packaging.

“We were fortunate that our supply vendor was willing to work with us,” said Dave Quillen, Joe’s managing partner. “We went to great lengths to find the right size and right functional container. It’s an on-going process; we’re looking at packaging that’s a little less expensive, but still as functional.”

“The fewer things you need to purchase from a packaging standpoint, the easier it is from an operational standpoint.”
Charles Bililies

When Charles Bililies opened his first location of Souvla, a fast-casual Greek restaurant serving rotisserie-roasted natural meats served in warm pitas and salads, in early 2014 in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, he envisioned it as more dine-in and take-away business. But then services like Caviar, UberEats, Postmates and DoorDash emerged and his business model quickly changed.

Today, he works with Caviar and delivery comprises about 25 percent of Souvla’s business across its three locations. To manage, Bililies created packaging that would work across delivery and to-go orders, printing the packages with on-brand copy and checkboxes to differentiate what meat was selected, whether it was a wrap or salad and any add-ons like extra hot sauce.

“We were very thoughtful and selective on what type of packaging we were using since it would reflect the brand,” Bililies said. “There was a tremendous amount of trial and error and we went through a lot of samples to find the right balance and to streamline the packaging so we were not ordering 20 different types of packaging. Instead, we’re being versatile with four to five types of to-go packaging.”

Bililies stressed that streamlining the packaging has helped him save money as delivery quickly encompassed a quarter of his overall business. His recommendation to other restaurant owners with significant delivery business is to do larger print runs of custom boxes, but only if it makes sense and you have a place you can warehouse the goods.

“The fewer things you need to purchase from a packaging standpoint, the easier it is from an operational standpoint,” he said.

But, the one delivery conundrum that prevails? How to keep French fries from getting soggy.

“I don’t think anyone has been able to solve for the delivery challenge with fries,” Bililies admitted, with a laugh. “What’s been interesting, with respect to fries, I think people are just very understanding that fries will never be as good as they are in the restaurant.”

Maybe every restaurant needs to add a label that instructs customers to set their oven 15 minutes before the delivery arrives to crisp up the fries. At least until someone invents that breakthrough French fry package. Now that would be a serious game changer.

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