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Tired of hearing about delivery this and that yet? Well, it’s only just begun according to Daniel Boutare, managing associate, and David Stone, managing partner and principal, both of The New England Consulting Group (NECG) in Westport, Conn.

“Even at concepts that are traditionally dine-in more guests are taking out; we’re seeing chains get smaller with new store formats that seat only 40 or less in some cases,” says Stone.

To enhance delivery operations in the kitchen and back-of-the-house, NECG follows these steps with chain restaurants:

Step 1: Analyze Employee Steps

When designing for delivery begin by examining the number of steps back-of-the-house employees take on a minute-by-minute basis. “Do their paths overlap during the flow for delivery?” asks Stone. “If so, how do we optimize those routes by minimizing the number of steps or creating new pathways that don’t overlap?”

Stone and Boutare say they haven’t been involved with any operators to date that have created entirely separate cooking or prep lines for delivery due to smaller footprints. They believe, however, this could change if the incremental volume from delivery begins to warrant that extra space.

“If there’s a growing shift form third-party to direct delivery, we definitely anticipate the need for separate lines and new store formats and footprints,” Stone says.

Step 2: Reevaluate the Menu

When designing specifically for take-out and delivery, some menu items just don’t travel as well as others.

“The chain might need to rethink the type of bread they’re using or package it in a different container to achieve a higher quality and satisfaction level,” Boutare says. “It’s all about optimizing menus for enjoyment away from the restaurant.”

In addition, when it comes to menu changes, Boutare notes that many chains continue to explore preportioned and partially pre-prepared foods as a way to cut cooking times and even space in the back of the house to handle an influx from delivery or take-out orders. “We’re not talking about the terrible frozen stuff from years ago but newer, more innovative foodservice products that are fresher and higher in quality.”

Other chains, knowing their peak times of day, will precook popular foods in the minutes before service to ensure a regular flow of product.

Even branding decisions should come into play when choosing packaging; to-go containers and wraps offer the perfect opportunity for chains to flaunt their food and stay in their customers’ minds long after they’ve left the brick-and-mortar location.

Step 3: Invest in “Smarter” Equipment

Once a far-out concept, the line of Bluetooth-enabled and “smart” equipment on the market continues to grow, and chains investing in delivery continue to invest in these pieces as well in order to streamline operations.

“These pieces really diminish the potential for human error and with increasing labor challenges, they can be preset and preprogrammed to perform tasks, often with the simple press of a button,” says Stone. He also forsees high-speed equipment like rapid-cook ovens continuing to become more prominent in the future as the delivery phenomenon continues and there’s a need to boost speed of service and throughput.

Step 4: Consider the Commissary

An off-site commissary or ghost kitchen offers another option to fulfill delivery orders. These facilities can expand space without all the costs of a traditional brick-and-mortar location, Stone points out.

“This is something we did years ago when I was with Taco Bell and we’re beginning to see it again. A lot more food can be prepared at a commissary and it’s a way to minimize in-store labor, space and costs. The bigger question is ‘What level of real estate do I need to serve changing customer needs?’ ”

Step 5: Put More Emphasis on the Pickup Process

In addition to delivery, more consumers now place online orders and expect to jump lines to pick up their food.

Places like Panera Bread now place online pickup orders on shelves next to the expo line; customers grab their orders themselves. Some Little Caesars locations include heated containers or cubbies off to the side of the main cashier line where customers can pick up their prepaid pizza with an online code they receive after placing their order. Eatsa, which still operates two San Francisco-area restaurants where consumers never interact with a staff member, now markets its technology as eatsa Platform to operators.

Regardless of the method — delivery, off-premise or takeout — consumers want their food when they want it. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.