After putting six major third-party delivery services to a test, the editors of Restaurant Business all came to the same conclusion: Getting on the delivery bandwagon is going to be a must for restaurants that want to stay competitive. The customer experience was that good.
For operators not willing or able to drop off meals on their own, it’s definitely a downer that the cost of outsourcing is a hefty one. But delivery is an amenity that consumers are likely to use more frequently as they get more familiar with these third-party services. Heck, the one-time test convinced this editor of how convenient and, for lack of a better word, stellar delivery can be. In fact, I’ve ordered delivery via a third-party app twice since the initial test, just a few weeks back.
The success of a delivery program doesn’t fall entirely on the third-party service, though. It’s also a function of how operators are preparing the food, wrapping it up and setting the prices, as we learned from the six places we tried. So the decisions made on packaging, pricing and even what to deliver undoubtedly matter.
In our test, we ranked each of those attributes as well as the overall experience on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Here’s what we learned as consumers about the importance of packaging and maintaining the food’s temperature.
Concept: Cemitas Puebla (via DoorDash)
Meal: Two cemitas sandwiches, one Milanese and one Arabe
Food temperature: 4
Overall score: 4.75
The sandwiches were wrapped in foil, which “did the trick,” said one tester. “It’s simple and it works,” said another. To boot, the packaging is a cheaper method than plastic containers and kept the food warmer than most.
To keep food from getting soggy in transit, Cemitas sent its three signature sauces in small, plastic containers on the side. In a world where everyone loves customization, it allowed our testers to try the different flavors before deciding which they liked best.
Cemitas also was one of the few restaurants to pack napkins with its takeout meal, a big plus to our testers. The restaurant knows its food is somewhat messy and took that into account, anticipating guests needs even at home.’
Concept: Nonna’s (via Postmates)
Meal: Meatball sub and chicken Parm sandwich with chips and soda
Food temperature: 5
Overall score: Just under 5
“Very hot,” one tester wrote. Nonna’s foil-wrapped sandwiches were the perfect temperature—definitely the warmest food we tried. An added benefit: Sandwiches were labeled, so it’d be easy to divide up food for a group without tearing through and touching each other’s food.
The restaurant also did something interesting with the accompanying potato chips, which were packaged in a bag that featured a window, so you could see the product. A label on the branded bag read, “Tweet me before you eat me” with Nonna’s twitter handle. Smart marketing move, Nonna’s.
Interestingly, the glass-bottled sodas that came with the meal were kept cold, all the while sitting in the same handled brown bag that the Postmates deliverer handed over. The Italian spot obviously took care when packaging the bag, managing to create a buffer between the hot sandwiches and cold drinks with the chips.
Concept: Umami Burger (via Amazon Prime Now)
Meal: Umami burger and Manly burger with fries
Food temperature: 4
Overall score: 4
Umami Burger’s compostable containers not only allow for microwaving, but make it easy to keep any leftovers. Consumers simply have to close the container and toss it in the fridge, not worrying about rewrapping anything.
To boot, the restaurant wrapped the burger in paper before bundling it with French fries, preventing burger juices from leaking onto the fries. Umami also had different size containers to ensure the burger had a tight fit in its holder—holding toppings intact. The result was a warm burger that stayed assembled and fries that stayed crispy.
Concept: Wow Bao (via UberEats)
Meal: Chicken teriyaki bao; teriyaki rice bowl
Food temperature: 2.5
Overall score: 4
The food wasn’t super hot, likely because it’d been sitting in a warming bag in the deliverer’s car for who knows how long. I guess that’s the trade-off for the four-minute delivery time. If the food is ready and just waiting for the orders to come in (that’s how UberEats works—drivers have the food ready and waiting in their car), how hot can it be kept?
Wow Bao seemed to keep that in mind. Taking the lids off, the semi-plastic containers could go in the microwave just fine. Another plus: The lids were very easy to pop on and off, so saving uneaten food was a breeze.
Concept: Big & Little’s (via Eat24)
Meal: Shrimp banh mi po’boy
Food temperature: 3
Overall score: 4
Why some operations still use polystyrene packaging escapes us. Not only is it bad for the environment, it can’t be microwaved. Shockingly, our sandwiches stayed warm-ish; no reheating was necessary.
The one saving grace is the ability to close the clamshell and toss uneaten food into the fridge for the next day. Then again, reheating the sandwich meant taking out a plate and getting that dirty—less than ideal, if you ask me.
Concept: Simply It’s (via Grubhub)
Meal: Banh mi sandwiches
Food temperature: 2
Overall score: 3
In today’s environmentally conscious world, polystyrene is bad enough. But wrapping a Styrofoam container in plastic wrap is an overkill. And that was just for the sides.
The sandwiches were wrapped in white paper and sealed with a rubber band. While this would be a fine method for handing out street food, it looks sloppy from a traditional restaurant—almost like an afterthought.
One key thing for operators to remember: Part of creating an experience for your diners—even those eating your food at home—is the visual.