From Dashers to Caviar, with a Touch of Maple
The Newest Meals on Wheels are Delivering with Speed and Style
What if you could be part of a $70 billion business that has the potential to improve your restaurant’s bottom line by 20 to 30 percent* while driving new customers to your menu — and do it all without capital investment?
An abundance of start-ups built on localized networks of sophisticated technology platforms and smartphone apps is determined to make good on the promise. They’re cultivating and capturing the growing dining-on-demand audience, delivering new sales to existing restaurants, and in the process, revolutionizing the entire practice of foodservice delivery. From quick-service chains, to independent lunch hubs and even fine dining establishments, delivery partners are driving new opportunities to maximize back-of-the-house efficiencies without impacting front-of-the-house operations. There may be a limit to how many guests you can serve in your restaurant, but connecting with an online delivery service can boost your total numbers considerably.
It’s almost expected in an “on-demand economy that makes it easier than ever for customers to get what they want at the push of a button,” according to Catherine Ferdon of Caviar, an online delivery service started in 2012. For restaurateurs, partnering with an established delivery service eliminates the obstacles of hiring, insuring, training and managing a fleet of delivery personnel. The online marketing offered by most of the companies adds to the value proposition, helping operators tap into the growth opportunity and earn an introduction to a few new tech-savvy customers along the way.
“Our restaurant is constantly busy. We don’t have the time to deal with the logistics nightmare that is delivery,” says Evan Bloom, owner of Wise Sons Restaurant in San Francisco. “Since we started offering delivery through Caviar, we’ve seen a huge increase in sales. We’ve become better at our takeout operations as well, since we’re now used to the increased volume of orders.”
While quick-service food delivery has been around for decades, the combination of smartphones, outsourcing and Uber-ing has led to a perfect storm in today’s choices, making meals at home a lot more appetizing for both restaurants and consumers. Depending on location, market niche and willingness to scale BOH operations, there is a full menu of delivery partners. Restaurant Inc. checked in with a few.
At this time, most of the larger, more established delivery experts (GrubHub, Seamless, OrderUp, DoorDash, Postmates) are regionally based and in most cases specialize in a specific restaurant market, bringing the operator expertise and tools for managing online ordering. Even smaller markets are seeing an uptick in independent start-ups, armed with a stable of trained drivers ready to go. Each service offers an app and website to market and capture hungry customers. The majority charge the customer a flat fee for delivery; some add a service fee, others take a flat rate commission from restaurants.
Even smaller markets are seeing an uptick in independent start-ups, armed with a stable of trained drivers ready to go. Each service offers an app and website to market and capture hungry customers.
Since 2012, Caviar (trycaviar.com) has partnered directly with the high-profile fine dining restaurants to offer quick and reliable local delivery of some of the best foods in major market cities. In 2014, the company joined Square, using its considerable operational and engineering expertise, along with a customized mobile app, to grow even faster. The strategy has paid off beautifully, with Caviar racking up 10 times the order volume in the past year.
“We focus on the food; our restaurant partners are our highest priority, and we ensure that customers have a high-quality meal and delivery experience every time,” explains Ferdon. “We work closely with each partner through every step of the process, helping them select the best items to feature for delivery, taking into account prep times and temperatures, and that we’re not bringing in more orders than they can handle. We even run delivery tests on certain dishes before adding them to the menu to make sure they deliver well and delight the customer every time.”
In addition to its focus on the more upscale restaurant and high-touch partnering model, Caviar differentiates itself with technological features: pre-order options, shared carts, beautiful photography of specific menu items and GPS to allow customers to track their delivery progress. Caviar is currently in 15 markets, including Atlanta, Brooklyn, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Manhattan, and has nearly 1,000 restaurants on the platform.
DoorDash (doordash.com) touts its sophisticated algorithms that match a driver with a restaurant to ensure speedy delivery and exceptional customer service. The “Dashers” grab the steaming food, wrap it in a space blanket inside the company’s iconic red bags and hit the road. Within 40 minutes, and usually sooner, the meal arrives at the door — fast, fresh and hot. Already one of the most popularly downloaded apps, its most recent big win was the alliance announced in July with national behemoth, Taco Bell. Delivery service was the chain’s number one request, said Prahar Shah, head of business development for DoorDash. That’s destined to keep the company on pace for phenomenal growth. Now in 250 cities, DoorDash plans to double its footprint by end of year.
That growth will also result from expanding partnerships with smaller, local restaurants, thousands of which already reside on the DoorDash platform. “We built our business with the independent neighborhood restaurants, and they are like family to us,” says Shah. “We provide all our partners with highly effective marketing by featuring them on our website; we don’t charge a fee for this, although some companies do. It’s a huge win for the local business owner.”
The DoorDash model continues to open all the right doors, with no sign-up fees for restaurants, or service fees to customers. Instead, a flat rate delivery fee is charged to the customer and DoorDash takes a commission from each order the company processes. As a value-add, DoorDash also manages the customer service and refunds for restaurant owners.
Taking the concept to the next level is Maple, a fascinating hybrid of upscale meal delivery. More of an app than a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, Maple is a delivery-only model, built on a high-quality menu concept that serves up a unique dining experience in the highly populated areas of Manhattan. Launched in April 2015, Maple is an upscale dining delivery option worth watching, creates a restaurant based solely on delivery excellence. Heavily backed by Wall Street investors, Maple combines the country’s top culinary talent with some of the brightest minds in technology and logistics to make food delivery exceptional at every point. The company’s sole focus is strategizing and outsmarting delivery challenges through technology, and then building the best mobile menu and dining experience based on delivery times and presentation.
“We’ve worked really hard to create a new answer to simple and consistent food delivery,” says Maple CEO Caleb Merkl, who co-founded the company with Akshay Navle, COO. “We feel strongly that it shouldn’t be hard to get a well-balanced meal made from high-quality ingredients at an accessible price. People are cooking less, but expectations around quality and experience are only pushing it higher. This is a perfect time for Maple.”
And it may be the perfect time to consider taking your menu mobile.