How to start a restaurant delivery service during COVID-19

A three step guide to starting and an in house food delivery service for your restaurant.

How to start a restaurant delivery service during COVID-19

A common complaint that restaurants have these days: “Why are my delivery orders so hard to handle?”

With the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, people everywhere are ordering meals in or getting them to go. There’s less demand to go around, but your restaurant struggles to field the waves of orders rushing in every day—all at the same time.

Driving sales, preparing food, and tracking deliveries is tough even in normal times. During a pandemic, this gets extra stressful. But you can’t afford to bail on any of it, either. Mess up enough delivery orders, and your customers won’t be coming back again any time soon.

So how do you stay on top of deliveries, earn your customers’ trust, and not drive yourself up the wall along the way? This article will show you how to start a restaurant delivery service and improve your business’s food delivery process in three stages with technology.  

Here’s what you need to consider when preparing your delivery system for the new normal:

  1. Getting orders in
    • Keep track of your sales channels
    • Contactless rules
    • Don't forget the phone
  2. Food preparation
  3. Route optimization and delivery

Getting orders in

If you haven’t set up a basic website with your menu and contact information—and perhaps some social media—you really should be starting from the beginning.

Chances are though, you most likely did some work on your web presence before the coronavirus pandemic hit. You may even already have a working system for taking orders and payment online.

But is your system prepared for the new delivery volume it’s getting slammed with?

Keep track of your sales channels

Although it isn't uncommon for your orders to be spread across social media (Facebook, Instagram), text messaging apps (SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram), email, phone calls, your own website, and delivery platforms… well, that’s a lot to work with.

Things get busy fast in food service, and with this many pans on the fire, something’s going to slip eventually. And even if you can handle the pressure of all these scattered orders, it’ll drain a lot of your energy and leave you exhausted at the end of each day.

Setting up an order management system that gathers all your food delivery orders into a single stream helps you sustain this intensity over the long haul. Better yet, get a system that tracks your inventory and financials with every order, so you don’t have to do the numbers after clearing those endless deliveries.

With so many order management platforms, which should you pick? Choosing an order management system isn’t the point of this article, and many other websites do far more detailed comparisons. But we get it—that’s not very helpful to you right now. So here are three systems that our food service partners have found popular and useful:

  1. Shopify
  2. WooCommerce
  3. Google Forms

Of the three, Shopify is the easiest way to get a comprehensive system going, and they’ve even rolled out some perks and support measures to help businesses cope with COVID-19. WooCommerce is similar, but it’ll require some expertise with website development—billed at around $500—and preferably a website on WordPress to start.

Shopify is a good option for starting a restaurant delivery service
Shopify comes with prebuilt themes designed specially for restaurants

You’ll pay a premium for Shopify’s convenience, though. Shopify starts at $29 per month, whereas WooCommerce plans start at $15 per month. Both charge a 2.9% credit card transaction fee. Both Shopify and WooCommerce allow you to set up a great looking menu online and allow customers to pay by credit card, so you don't have to worry about picking up cash from your customers later.

If you need something more basic, you can't go wrong with a trusty Google Form. Google Forms allows you to create a basic form so that your customers can enter their name phone number, address, preferred delivery date/time and select the menu items they want to order.

Another useful tool that you can use to consolidate all your orders in one place is Zapier. Zapier allows you to push data from Shopify/WooCommerce or Google Forms to an online spreadsheet (such as Google Sheets or Air Table) so you get full visibility of all your customer orders in one place.

Give them a whirl, and let us know which you find most useful for your shop!

Contactless rules for starting a restaurant delivery service

During a pandemic, cash is no longer king. Everyone’s avoiding unnecessary contact as much as they can, and not touching coins and banknotes is a great way to do that.

Credit cards and other digital payment methods have become popular over the past few years, but these are all but essential now. Contactless delivery is the new normal, and your order management system needs to have it dialed in.

That said, don’t throw your cash register away, either! Many people still prefer cash, and you can still serve those without contactless payments away as long as your staff is equipped to handle it safely.

Don’t forget the phone

A phone number is crucial for anyone running a food delivery service. It sounds old fashioned, but you’ll be getting loads of calls from customers who aren’t comfortable ordering online. Giving them your phone number for delivery orders lets you meet them where they’re at and earns their trust.

Taking phone orders when starting your restaurant delivery service

Still, that’s another source of orders for you to manage, and we all know how even a three-minute phone call can completely mess up a rush. You may want to invest in an order management system that handles your phone orders automatically, to save your sanity when the demand inevitably comes.

Restaurant delivery service food preparation

With your new delivery orders in hand, what is the best way to run them to your kitchen, storage, or bar?

Well, it depends.

When choosing your order management system, it’s important to know what your shop’s key problems are and how exactly technology can solve them.

A driver taking food from a restaurant delivery service

A craft beer brewery doing daily deliveries may gather all its orders before a cut-off time, prepare the packages in the cold room the night before, and group them loosely by delivery area. A good order management system would gather this information and make it easy to print invoices with customer names, phone numbers, and addresses—to stick onto boxes for drivers the next day. Drivers pick up their assigned orders and enter the details into the routing app of their choice.

Restaurants serving hot meals and beverages, on the other hand, need something that gathers and prioritizes delivery requests by the minute to prevent dropping the ball. The best systems allow kitchen expos and other managers to shuffle orders, add specific instructions, and cut off specific menu items when ingredients run out. Organizing deliveries is much easier in this case. Since hot food has a a limited shelf life, simply place the bagged meals on a table and wait for your delivery driver to come back to the restaurant and pick them up. If he's smart, he'd use a routing app to make sure his delivery route is as efficient as possible.

Kitchen staff preparing orders for their restaurant delivery service

Reliability and agility at speed are essential here, and word of mouth recommendations from your fellow industry vets are probably your best bet.

It really all depends on what your business’s specific needs are. Take time to chat with your staff about where they feel things can be smoother in your workflow before committing to an order management system. And when you’ve decided on one, make sure you work closely with them to make sure it’s actually helpful and get them to buy into using it.

Route optimization for your restaurant delivery service

Your orders are in, and your items are finally ready for their drivers.

At this point, all that remains is the delivery itself. How difficult can this be?

Turns out, deliveries get way more complicated and stressful the more people ask you about them.

You may know which customers should getting their deliveries first and have rough gauge of when each should arrive. But your drivers likely don’t know this, and your customers certainly won’t unless you tell them yourself.

Many customers will call and email you often for updates until their items arrive. Anxious people are often easily upset, and you’ll spend lots of time and energy tracking and confirming orders that are already in your system. If you’re the person in charge of delivery, as many small business owners are, all that time and energy spent assuring customers is probably better spent elsewhere.

If your drivers are getting stacks of orders to sort and plan their routes around, chances are that as delays happen and urgent orders come in, they will call you with questions about what to prioritize. Worse, if orders can’t get delivered that day, drivers may pass a stack of invoices at the end of the day for you to call customers to reschedule.

To make routing easier, you might set up a delivery chat group to ask drivers when an item will arrive. You might get them to text customers a few minutes before they reach. But overseeing this process takes time, and you’re still the one figuring out where orders are and getting back to customers about them.

Added up, these tiny little check-ins take up way more time than most people think. Thankfully, even a simple delivery management system can make this process immediately easier.

A free route planner like RouteBasic, for example, automatically sends customers notifications to let customers know when their meal will arrive. It lets customers track drivers live on a map themselves, optimizes your drivers’ routes so they get there faster, and even updates the status and completion time of each delivery automatically, giving you a bird's eye view of your operations, so you can immediately find out what happened to a customer's order.

No more manually searching for orders in your system, clarifying details with drivers and customers, or having to think hard about which deliveries to put first in the queue.

Need a free route planner to manage the logistics for your food delivery business? Take a look at our 1-minute video and give RouteBasic (available on iOS and Android) a try!