In the scramble for more off-premise business, a growing number of restaurant chains are looking hard at updated versions of curbside delivery, the takeout service that became a casual-dining staple almost a decade ago.
But Curbside 2.0 is finding nearly as much traction in the quick-service market, where the benefits were once presumed to be deliverable via drive-thrus. That assumption has been upended by Chick-fil-A’s curbside service, which by all accounts has been a hit for the chicken chain.
The amenity is aimed at mothers with small children. Instead of having to herd the youngsters into the store for traditional takeout, or even try to collect and pass along orders from a carful of rambunctious kids, the new service allows mom to place orders via Chick-fil-A’s app, pull up to the restaurant, hit a button that says, “I’m here,” and have the order passed through the driver-side window by a crewmember.
A similar setup figures largely into McDonald’s turnaround plan.
Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A is adopting a new variation, a service called Parent Pay and Park, or, alternatively, Mom’s Valet.
But casual brands aren’t overlooking the opportunity, either. Curbside takeout revamps are underway at several big-name chains.
Here’s a roundup of who’s doing what.
Red Robin’s push for moms
The full-service burger chain has already added curbside delivery at 10% of its units, and plans to have 25% of company-run restaurants featuring the amenity by midyear. By that point, a to-go specialist will be a member of the team at all corporate stores, and new signage will be erected “to make the process of pickup as seamless as possible,” CEO Denny Post said Wednesday.
“Guests tell us—particularly those moms with little kids—that they prefer we bring their orders to their car,” she told financial analysts.
Perhaps not coincidentally, third-party delivery hasn’t been a joy for the chain. The fees are a wallop, and delivery estimates have been off the mark, she explained. “’Seamless’ is not how I would exactly describe our experience,” Post said.
Chili’s test of ‘simpler, faster, effortless’
Like every other contender in casual dining, Brinker International’s mainstream entrant is intensifying its pitch for eat-at-home patrons. “For takeout guests, we know they want a simpler, faster, effortless experience,” Brinker CEO Wyman Roberts revealed to investors. “We’re meeting that need through an upgrade in our Chili's app that provides digital curbside service where our guests can order, pay, and then notify us when they're in the parking lot.”
The service is currently being tested and “getting great response from guests,” said Wyman, who predicted the revamp would be systemwide by year’s end.
Like Red Robin, the chain intends to tweak its staffing to facilitate the service.
Chick-fil-A’s Parent Pay and Park
The high-flying chicken chain has been getting attention for its curbside delivery. Almost overlooked is a close approximation where the food is delivered to a table instead of the curb.
The Parent Pay and Park service, which has been around for years but isn’t yet available chainwide, spares parents the task of serving the food at home—and having to clean up afterward.
Here’s how it works: The family orders and pays at a drive-thru, and specifies that they’d like to eat on-premise. The staff secures a table for the group, provides an extra needs like high chairs, and has the food waiting. All the family has to do is sit and eat.
McDonald’s alternative to kiosks and drive-thrus
One of the most ambitious drives for off-premise sales is being mounted by Big Mac, which plans to get food in takeout customers' hands (or cars) in a variety of ways. Included is curbside delivery, where customers enter a highly customized order and pay for it via an app, and then just pull up to the restaurant.
McDonald’s hasn’t revealed any specifics about the setup. But it has talked about possible changes in unit staffing. “We're not seeing additional labor,” says CEO Steve Easterbrook. “What we are seeing is a reallocating of labor positions in the restaurants, and we need less people behind the front counter taking orders.”
Easterbrook has also talked about designating a “hospitality service employee” that will assist customers who place their orders through alternate means.