Panera Bread adds third-party ordering as delivery rapidly morphs

The self-delivery advocate is expanding its service to customers of Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Panera Bread said it has expanded the scope of its delivery ordering network by enabling users of Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats to request a delivery by a Panera employee through those platforms. 

The fast-casual chain, an off-premise pioneer, stressed that deliveries will continue to be made in most markets by the chain, not the third parties, and that patrons are expected to continue using Panera’s proprietary channels to place their orders. But the move enables Panera to court consumers who may be fans of the services and tend to order from restaurant brands featured in those online marketplaces. Chains that have relied on the third-party services for order placement and the actual transport of the food say the arrangement has introduced them to customers who had been unfamiliar with the brands.

Outback Steakhouse parent Bloomin’ Brands recently revealed that it similarly plans to join forces with a third-party deliverer, even though the company has been building its own delivery capabilities for Outback and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. 

Outside of the pizza segment, Panera and Outback have been among the industry’s most forceful chain proponents of self-delivery.  The change in their strategies illustrates how the third-party delivery model is being cracked apart so brands can cherry pick segments of the process that fit their needs. 

Last week, for instance, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers revealed that it will begin testing an arrangement whereby orders placed through its proprietary app and website will be carted by the third parties. That arrangement will enable the casual chain to capture detailed information about its delivery customers without having to build its own fleet of delivery vehicles.

The leading third-party providers have also shown a greater willingness to customize their operations. Traditionally, the services refused to provide information about delivery customers with the restaurants that provide the ordered food. But Grubhub won a nationwide contract from Shake Shack in part because it agreed to share that data

As part of an updated and deeper relationship with IHOP and Applebee’s, Grubhub announced today that it will begin sharing “additional marketing benefits, as well as advanced analytics capabilities” with franchisees of the two Dine Brands holdings. The arrangement was revealed two weeks after Applebee’s announced an arrangement with DoorDash whereby customers can get free delivery on Sundays for the duration of the football season. 

Panera said it was able to broaden its order-taking network because of the self-delivery system the bakery-cafe brand built over the course of several years. 

“These new partnerships are possible because we already have a fleet of delivery drivers and the infrastructure created to support increased demand,”  Dan Wegiel, Panera’s chief growth and strategy officer, said in a statement. “We believe this partnership model helps differentiate us from our competitors and will take our already successful delivery business to new heights.”

The chain said it has made over 28 million deliveries, and the service now generates 7% of total sales. Delivery is available from 1,600 of the chain's 2,074 units. 

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