How to Get Started Offering Delivery at Your Restaurant

Bringing hot, fresh food to your customers’ doors is more complex than you might think.


Many customers prefer to stay home and eat, but don't necessarily want to cook. (Photo: Dragon Images/Shutterstock)


by Joni Sweet


Despite how much time you’ve spent perfecting the dine-in service at your restaurant, many customers crave the convenience of getting food delivered to their doors. But adding delivery as an option can be complicated. Is it worth the investment?


“The growth of delivery from restaurants is going through the roof. It can help you reach new customers and supplement your sales,” said Landon Ledford, founder of Double L Brands, a business consulting and marketing firm that has helped restaurants offer delivery.


Here are some tips from the experts on launching delivery service at your restaurant, and scoring a piece of a $47 billion market.


Set up your online order system


The expense of building a custom ordering system has many restaurateurs turning to third-party meal delivery services (like GrubHub and UberEats) to process their orders and payments. However, their fees can eat up your profits. Be selective in who you choose to work with to maximize the value on your investment, said Ledford.


“There are about five to seven main platforms that control about 90 percent of the U.S. delivery market. Vet providers based on their network — they’ll expose you to a new audience, so this is marketing, in a way,” said Ledford.


Generally, delivery service partners will take about 30 percent of the sale from each order. Try to negotiate the fees down to 18-25 percent, advised Ledford.


Create a delivery-friendly menu


Not every dish served at your restaurant will travel well. Create a delivery-friendly menu that only includes dishes likely to taste fresh and delicious when they arrive at your customers’ doors.


“Online reviews of bad delivery experiences can damage a brand if the delivered food doesn’t substantially mimic the restaurant’s plated food,” said Ray Camillo, founder of Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting. “Pasta, for instance, tends to soak up the sauce and resemble nothing close to same item served on a plate a la minute. Fried items are best served crispy and hot, not soggy and warm.”


As you pare down your main menu, stay away from dishes with costly ingredients — they’ll make it more challenging to earn a profit on delivery.


“Also, you can use this delivery-only menu as a way to increase the prices by 10 percent and reduce the impact of delivery fees on margins,” said Ledford.


Stock up on packaging


Nothing’s worse for a customer than getting a sloppy delivery with food all over the bag. Test various containers to see which will keep your deliveries intact.


“Earth-friendly paper products don’t always work well for delivery. Corn-based plastics tend to melt when exposed to hot liquid, and cardboard that isn’t coated in plastic tends to leach (then leak) liquids,” said Camillo.


It’s also important to train your staff on the best way to pack up meals for delivery.


Test various containers to see which will keep your deliveries intact. (Photo: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock)


“Lids must secure tightly to keep one food item from spilling onto another, and the containers must make your food look good. If you put a small pasta side in a large takeout container, the customer may feel ripped off for receiving such a small portion, even though it’s the same size as the restaurant portion,” he added.


Figure out staffing


Staffing up your delivery service can be tricky for restaurants that want to keep their labor costs low. However, it’s worth bringing on some extra employees to help with the influx of business.


“We’ve seen small restaurants and even big national chains mismanage delivery by staffing the restaurant for dine-in volume and then shifting that same staff to delivery detail at peak times. The manager sends a cashier or a cook out to deliver food when they should be cooking food or ringing in customers,” said Camillo.


If adding new team members to your payroll isn’t an option right now, you might opt to work with a delivery platform that comes with its own drivers, such as Postmates or UberEats.


“Outsourcing the staffing can make delivery more scalable and allow you to do a higher volume of orders,” said Ledford.


Roll it out gradually


There are always bumps in the road when it comes to launching delivery. Limit the times you offer the service in the first few weeks so you can fine-tune your operation.


“Monday through Wednesday are usually good days to start testing this, as those tend to be slower times for restaurants,” said Ledford. “It’ll minimize the impact on the kitchen if you end up getting a lot of orders and allow your staff to get the internal processes down.”


Pay attention to how long the delivery orders take to cook and pack, whether delivery drivers are making the service window too crowded and the time it takes to get the food to the customers’ doors. You may need to tweak certain processes to make your service a more seamless experience.


Track your numbers


Delivery service will likely increase your revenue, but that doesn’t always lead to extra profits. Set up a system to track the success of your delivery system, said Ledford.


“Keep an eye on delivery sales as they relate to profit margins, and track first-time customers and their return visits,” he said. “In addition, you should manage online reviews and feedback on your digital platforms, as well as through the delivery platforms themselves.”


Offering delivery can add complexity to the way you run your restaurant. But with the right strategy and processes in place, it’s a great way to bolster your bottom line and expand your customer base without adding extra tables to your dining room.