Offers a New Level of Takeout Customer Service
In the 1950s and 60s, the restaurant drive-in concept exploded and became a popular alternative to the traditional dine-in setting. All sorts of folks took to the concept of driving their car into a stall, ordering through a speaker and getting their meal delivered by a server (often on roller skates!) who would hang a tray off the window. Just like that, dinner was served. While drive-ins have waned in popularity over the last few decades, some restaurants like Sonic Drive-In, Atlanta's The Varsity and Chicago's Superdawg still offer this old-fashioned service. Increasingly though, today’s discerning customer wants to take their food and go without ever leaving their car. Enter curbside pickup.
Curbside delivery is heating up as it offers restaurants the ability to grow sales without taking up space at the restaurant. For customers, they can have the luxury of enjoying a restaurant-quality meal without leaving their automobile. In fact, 46 percent of all customers at restaurants that provide table service said they would take advantage of having their takeout order brought out to them if offered, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast. And restaurants are responding in spades. Nationwide chains like California Pizza Kitchen and Outback Steakhouse offer curbside delivery at many of their outlets, adding another layer of convenience and customer service.
Austin, Texas-based Johnny Carino's, a chain of about 90 casual Italian restaurants throughout the U.S., has offered curbside delivery for more than a decade as a convenience for their customers. "We have a dedicated pickup area and have someone who watches and we bring out the food," said Ryan Bearden, director of marketing for Johnny Carino's. "Most people will call ahead so when they pull up, their order is ready and they never have to leave their car."
Bearden added that while people love Johnny Carino's Italian nachos and spicy Romano chicken, they don't always want to go out to dinner and sit through a meal in the dining room. "They may not have an hour to come in and sit in the restaurant. This is a way to give them the best of what we offer."
Johnny Carino's also sees an uptick in curbside delivery on "Family Night Mondays" when diners can take advantage of the restaurant's family platters at half price. "That's hugely popular with the to-go orders," Bearden said. "When you have specials like that with the convenience of curbside pickup, it's great." He said the system works well because they offer dedicated parking spots in front of the restaurants, often have a separate door for to-go orders and a staff manning a P.O.S. system dedicated solely to carry-out orders.
And it's not just larger chain restaurants that recognize the value in curbside delivery. Smaller, chef-driven restaurant groups like St. Louis' Niche Food Group, which is owned by five-time James Beard nominee Gerard Craft, have gotten into the game. Craft's casual Italian trattoria, Pastaria, started offering curbside delivery after realizing it made things more accessible for their guests, especially since the restaurant is on a busy thoroughfare.
Pastaria executive chef Michael Petres said that if the restaurant is busy or if there's inclement weather, their carry-out business still functions well. "For those nights where guests want to stay in or the weather is bad, they take advantage of curbside and we don't have to worry about loss of sales."
While it's an added convenience for guests, restaurants do need to take certain steps to ensure the process flows properly. "It was important for us to have the systems in place so that the ordering process didn't drag down the kitchen or affect the flow of the dining room," Petres said. "You have to have the space and the manpower to take calls, stage orders and communicate when a guest has arrived in their vehicle." Pastaria has the added benefit of a large valet lane and the help of the valet team, who will alert the restaurant staff via walkie-talkies when someone has arrived for their order.
Both Pastaria and Johnny Carino's have seen a huge increase in customer usage of the curbside delivery option, which, in turn, equates to happier customers.
"The number one takeaway for me is the more convenient we can make the experience ... that's king," Bearden said. "If you can tap into that then you're going to be doing well."