Running Successful Take-out and Delivery Services


pizza delivery bag A National Restaurant Survey from 2006 indicated that 34% of adults reported that take-out food was essential to their way of life. 1 With over one third of adults feeling this strongly about their to-go meals, it is clear that take-out and delivery options are no longer limited to Chinese food and pizza. Present-day fast-casual restaurants, casual dining restaurants and even fine dining establishments are tapping into the possibilities and benefits of take-out and delivery services. Consider the following concepts to maximize your delivery and take-out services’ success:

Implement an Appropriate Ordering Method

Customers have a wide variety of options for ordering their take-out food, from phoning in an order to entering order information online. The following are the most common ordering methods:

  • Telephone. In 2007, about 10% of all restaurant orders were made over the phone.2 Although this statistic appears small, the telephone is still the most common method of placing take-out and delivery orders orders.
  • Online ordering. According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant websites are typically visited by 48% of adults 3, and about 13% of consumers have used the internet to place an order for take-out or delivery. 4 This is convenient for people placing large orders and modern POS systems can often handle online orders with ease.
  • Text messaging. Many restaurants are moving beyond traditional telephone orders. For instance, Papa John’s Pizza is now equipped to receive SMS or text message orders from personal cell phones or devices. For the young adult and teenage market, text message ordering is a fast and convenient way to order food. Advances in ordering technology can provide greater convenience and speed for hungry customers.
  • Drive-thru. While drive-thrus are traditionally associated with fast-food chains, many independent quick-service restaurants, especially ice-cream shops, coffee joints and sandwich restaurants, are taking advantage of this popular ordering method.
  • Walk-ins. The faster your take-out service, the more likely you are to find customers walking in for to-go orders. Try to accommodate your walk-in guests with speedy, friendly take-out services.

Accuracy is Everything

Accuracy is important in any restaurant, but even more so with take-out orders and delivery orders. Ways to ensure accuracy are listed below:

  • Get it right the first time. With take-out or delivery orders, the waiter does not have the chance to run back to the kitchen and grab the side of mashed potatoes he forgot when he delivered the food. In fact, there are no waiters involved in take-out or delivery orders, even though a server or designated take-out staff member may deliver food to the car. There is only one chance to get it right, or else the customer’s meal might very well be a total disappointment.
  • Have an accurate order-entry system. Be sure you have an accurate order-entry system, such as proper Point of Sale (POS) software, as well as a staff who understands how to complete their tasks correctly and efficiently the first time.
  • Check for accuracy during preparation. There should be quality control checks as well as accuracy checks along the line of production before any food order reaches the customer’s hands, just as there would be for any food going to a guest within the restaurant walls. The customer expects every item to be present, including salad dressing, bread and sides.
  • Hot food hot. Food service works often use the saying, “hot food hot, cold food cold” to maintain food temperature standards. This saying holds true whether the meal’s final destination is a table in the restaurant dining room or the customer’s table back home.

Food Safety is Paramount

Food quality and safety during packaging, transport and reheating is a big concern when it comes to take-out or delivery. For take-out orders, be sure the food is kept at an appropriate temperature until the customer picks it up. When packaging food for delivery, be sure that the containers will withstand transport without leaking or breaking. Also, keep the hot foods packed away from cold ones. If delivering, make sure that foods will stay at safe temperatures while en route. Food safety can be compromised if temperatures vary or fall into the food Danger Zone. Make certain that there are clear instructions for reheating the food. A use-by-date is helpful as well. » Learn More About Food Safety and the Danger Zone

Prepare a Take-out and Delivery Menu

Unless your restaurant is designed purely for take-out business, you may want to consider a specific take-out menu for your guests. Some of your regular menu items may not be easily transported, especially if your take-out containers do not seal tightly or stay upright. Consider what your kitchen staff is capable of producing and what items will be appropriate for your take-out menu. Furthermore, you should provide paper takeout menus so guests can take them home. Paper menus are also a great marketing tool for sending in the mail. You should also place menus for take-out or delivery by your door, in a special section of the general menu and on your restaurant’s website, if applicable.

Schedule Workers Appropriately

When developing a take-out or delivery system, you may need to consider bringing on a few extra employees. This is true especially if take-out sales make up a significant portion of your revenue. If your business counts on a percentage of sales from the sale of take-out and delivery menu items, then you should be sure to have workers to accommodate these sales. This may include hiring or training workers to specifically perform the following tasks:

  • Answer and organize incoming phone calls or drive-thru orders
  • Collect payment
  • Expedite all orders to be sure each one is complete and accurate
  • Drive delivery orders

» Learn More About How to Control Labor Costs

Insurance is Critical

Although all restaurants ought to have liability insurance and workers’ compensation, establishments that run vehicle delivery services—no matter if they are company-owned or worker-owned—must invest in automobile insurance. You run the risk of facing a lawsuit or other damages if one of your drivers gets into an accident. Insurance affords your workers, the public and your business the protection and peace of mind you need. » Learn More About Managing Operational Risks

Challenges of Take-out Services in a Full-Service Restaurant

For full service restaurants, incorporating take-out services can be tricky. Consider the following challenges of providing take-out services in a full-service restaurant:

  • Lower check averages. Check averages tend to be lower than normal since guests are typically not ordering appetizers, desserts or beverages with their meals, and do not usually include a tip
  • Limited parking spaces. Without a separate designated parking area for take-out customers, take-out sales may never materialize. A separate and well-designated parking area specifically for take-out customers may facilitate higher take-out sales, and will help your employees deliver better service, including delivering food to each customer’s car immediately when they arrive.
  • Crowded pick-up area. A separate counter or bar area may be necessary as well, to differentiate in-house dining from take-out orders.
  • Foot traffic jams. Proper signage and even a special entrance may be required in some cases. This can be a high initial cost for restaurant operators just starting out in take-out services.

Things to Consider about Delivery Services

When deliberating about starting up delivery services, be sure to consider the following:

  • Determine if you will instill a minimum order charge for deliveries. Some restaurants require a minimum order of $10 or more for delivery.
  • Decide if you will offer free delivery. Many restaurants offer free delivery as a means of promoting their services, but decide if this is something you can afford to offer or if you will charge a delivery fee.
  • Be sure to provide training for delivery drivers. As ambassadors for your restaurant, they should be more than just hired drivers. These people must be honest, personable and representative of the service your restaurant provides all of its customers.
  • Consider how you will market your delivery services to the surrounding areas. It might benefit you to promote these services for banquet events or business luncheons. Your delivery services will be much more profitable when you know how to properly promote them.
  • Incorporate technology in delivery services. Many restaurants are moving beyond simple telephone orders. Papa John’s Pizza, for instance, is now equipped to receive SMS or text message orders from customers’ personal cell phones or devices. Many others also have online ordering systems in place. Advances in ordering technology can provide greater convenience and speed for hungry customers.

Consider Outsourcing Your Delivery Services

Think about contracting an outside delivery service. Outsourcing delivery can be a good choice for your operation for three main reasons:

  • Services are cost-effective since there is no additional payroll, and the staff that you do have can be used for in-house labor rather than delivery work.
  • Delivery services often cover a greater area and distance, making the option more convenient for customers.
  • You do not need to purchase any delivery vehicles and any needed equipment, since your contracted delivery service will do that for you.
  • The delivery service will manage a delivery phone line for you, saving you on phone payments and again on labor.

1 “National Restaurant Association Says 2006 Sales Will Exceed Half-Trillion Dollar Mark for Nation’s Largest Private-Sector Employer.” (accessed December 14, 2008).
2 “Logging On for Takeout.” (accessed December 18, 2008).
3 “Restaurant Industry at a Glance.” (accessed December 17, 2008).
4 “Logging On for Takeout.” (accessed December 18, 2008).

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1 Comment

  1. I agree completely that accuracy is everything. I have gotten food delivered before and been so excited to open the boxes and dig in. Nothing is more dismaying than to realize you’ve just been delivered someone else’s order! This is made even worse when you have given a nice tip to the delivery person. Thanks for a great article!

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