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Off-Premise Foodservice: How Operators are Taking Control of Third-Party Delivery Platforms

Panelists at Datassential's Foodscape event offer tips and insights to improve off-premise food.




“Off-premise is here to stay,” Jason Rusk, vice president at Red Robin Burger Works, said at research firm Datassential’s Foodscape event in Chicago Aug. 9-10. “It’s all about owning the experience and taking back more control.”

Rusk prefers to use the term “off-premise” as an all-encompassing reference to the integration of delivery, catering and takeout food happening at restaurants as more consumers order restaurant meals for consumption at the office, home and elsewhere outside the restaurant’s four walls.

Control, certainly, is of the essence, as third-party delivery companies like Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, UberEats and others capitalize on this changing consumer behavior. Restaurants have had to scramble to improve their menus, systems and operations in an effort to prepare for a random delivery person to show up on a bike and walk out with food for a customer however many miles away.

Rusk says Red Robin has had complaints about rude third-party delivery drivers and others who were late with the food. While it may be challenging for restaurants to control that aspect of off-premise, there are other things you can help them do to hold up their end of the bargain and ensure they don’t damage their brand. Here, we offer a few suggestions that came out of a panel discussion at Foodscape . Panelists included Raleigh McClayton, VP business development, Grubhub; Alex Bard, IT Manager, Just Salad; Jason Rusk, VP Alernate Platforms, Red Robin; Marty Hahnfeld, chief commercial officer, Olo, and Jack Li, Datassential.

Streamline and integrate the ordering process. Online ordering has been driving off-premise feeding and technology in the restaurant industry, the Foodscape panel agreed. Just Salad, for example, had to put the kibosh on phone ordering since it receives up to 300 delivery orders just at lunch alone, according to Bard.

Red Robin has partnered with software company Olo to enable its highly customizable online ordering system, but also to integrate that ordering system with back-of-the-house order displays so that all orders from computers, smartphones or tablets in the store go to one place. Rusk says he’s also been able to leverage data from that program to learn more about its customers’ preferences and behavior as well as streamline pricing and inventory.

“The question you should ask before investing in a POS or ordering platform is who are you integrating with?” Rusk said.

Red Robin has also leveraged the software platform to better manage inventory and purchasing. 

Improve takeout packaging. Both Rusk and Bard agreed it’s important for their brands to offer customers everything and anything they would want off a menu from their restaurant. But let’s face it; some food just doesn’t travel as well. In fact, Datassential found the majority of consumers believe that pizza, wings and fried rice — in that order — travel better during delivery than burgers and fries.

As a result, Red Robin, being burger and fries concept, had to consider making major packaging changes in order to ensure the fries would stay hot and crispy and the burgers wouldn’t go soggy en-route.

Working with a packaging manufacturer, the chain developed some proprietary pieces to keep hot food hot, crispy and fresh and cold food cold, Rusk said. The chain also went with clear packaging so delivery drivers can cross-check the food with the orders (the ticket says there are four burgers, looking at the package, there are four burgers), as well as instructions for reheating.

“Limiting our menu didn’t make sense because our customers want their burgers and fries, but there are backend adjustments we have made to deliver more difficult items faster and better,” Rusk said.

Everyone on the panel agreed there is plenty of room for manufacturers to get in the off-premise game. Some manufacturers have experimented with perforated fry pods to allow steam to escape, but there has been surprisingly little innovation in this field. That could change as delivery continues to escalate.

Design and train in the kitchen for off-premise. Both Red Robin and Just Salads have carved out kitchen space for off-premise, even if it’s a small prep table and overhead shelving. They have also assigned certain team members to manage and “own” takeout and delivery orders. In some cases, extra heating units on the pickup line have been added, or undercounter refrigeration.

Additionally, it’s important to train restaurant staff on how to interact with delivery drivers or bikers. Rusk says Red Robin has stepped up training for its team members on how to politely and efficiently work with delivery drivers when they enter the restaurant for pickups. This has helped speed up and improve the accuracy of delivery orders.

With online ordering and data management technology gaining steam in the restaurant industry, restaurants have had to become smarter channel managers, looking to improve what they can from within as third-party vendors expand. Better packaging, technology integration and improved kitchen design can help them get there.