The demand for food delivery services has skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. DoorDash reported a 220 percent year-over-year increase in 2020, and many other food delivery companies also saw a business boom during this time.

While most of this growth can be directly attributed to the health crisis, a growing segment of the population prefers delivery and takeout to having a meal at a sit-down restaurant. In 2021, the National Restaurant Association found that upward of 70 percent of adults are more likely to order takeout than before the pandemic. As a result, restaurant owners need to up their takeout and delivery game.

Companies that haven’t made the necessary changes must take steps to create a winning food delivery service. Here’s how quick-service restaurants can meet customers’ needs and boost their business.

1. Know the Audience

The first step in creating a mouthwatering delivery service is understanding the audience that might place an order. What are they hoping to get out of the experience? Are they just looking for the convenience of a meal delivery or something more akin to fine dining in the comfort of their home? Understanding the customers and the local demographic that might place orders makes it easier to adjust the menu to make the most of their needs. 

The easiest way to achieve this goal might be to poll customers as they place their orders. Offering an incentive, like 10–20 percent off their next order as a thank you for completing the poll, could help increase the number of people who answer.

2. Test Meals

The worst thing about ordering food delivery is having it show up cold and soggy. Some meals handle transit better than others. Before restaurants start offering food delivery, it’s good to test the foods at different distances and for varying amounts of time to see how they hold up.

Bread might need to be stored in a separate compartment or container to prevent it from getting soggy during delivery. Keeping sauces and dressings on the side can also help ensure meals are fresh and tasty.

3. Keep Things Organized

Making multiple deliveries can be challenging, especially for drivers trying to keep their orders straight. The easiest way to handle this is to ensure everything is well organized and secured to keep it from moving while in transit. This could be as simple as a rack installed into the back seat and the use of seat belts in smaller cars. Larger vehicles, such as those used for commercial deliveries, should include shelving or containers designed to keep the food secure or even temperature-controlled during delivery.

4. Improve the Packaging

The last thing a customer wants is their hot food to be cold and vice versa when it arrives. Temperature-controlled storage is just one part of the puzzle. Improving the packaging to provide better insulation can help reduce the need for any additional temperature control. This way, it’s easy to ensure everything is at the proper temperature, both for pleasurable consumption and food safety.

According to the CDC, food out for delivery shouldn’t be kept at room temperature for more than two hours. That number drops to a single hour if the temperature outside is higher than 90 F.

5. Brand Everything

The easiest way to bring a customer back is to ensure the company is at the forefront of their mind. Business owners can’t do that without branding. Takeout orders are the perfect opportunity if funds are available in the budget to do so. Branding can go on anything from to-go containers to plastic flatware to condiment packets.

This is also the perfect opportunity to print to-go menus and include them with each takeout order or delivery. Something simple a customer can slap on their fridge can help keep the business in the forefront of their minds when they experience the urge to order takeout.

6. Add Some Extras

Adding extras to delivery can be another valuable tool to help companies compete in a flooded food delivery marketplace. Think of the fortune cookies that come with an order of Chinese takeout. These extras aren’t strictly necessary, but they can ingratiate a company with customers and push them further up the ranking when choosing takeout for dinner.

It doesn’t have to be fortune cookies. These extras can be anything from dinner mints to coupons for future orders or other incentives that will encourage patrons to return.

7. Keep Delivery in-House

There are a lot of different ways to handle food delivery. Businesses can partner with companies like DoorDash or UberEats, but these partnerships come with additional fees that cut into a restaurant’s profits. Restaurants that field large volumes of deliveries daily should take the more cost-effective option and keep the delivery service in-house.

This requires additional initial expenses, including insurance and purchasing fleet vehicles. However, depending on the number of deliveries completed every day, these expenses could pay for themselves quickly.

8. Choose Eco-Friendly Options

Takeout containers are traditionally made of plastic or styrofoam. Neither of these options is biodegradable, and once they come in contact with food, most of them are not recyclable, either. Thankfully, the global push toward creating a more sustainable future and reducing reliance on single-use plastics means eco-friendly takeout container options are hitting the market nearly every day.

Some forms of plastic, such as polyethylene (PET), are recyclable if they’re well cleaned, but they are not a good option for hot foods. Compostable options, such as bagasse or PLA-coated paper, may not last long enough for distant deliveries. Still, they are less harmful to the environment than some plastic or Styrofoam options.

The Future of Food Delivery

Food delivery may start slowing down now that the pandemic is beginning to ease its grip, but it will not go away. A whole class of people would prefer to have their fast food delivered rather than leaving their houses. Companies that haven’t started looking into delivery options should consider making that change to secure their place in an already crowded market.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over five years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.

Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story