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11 Ways to Improve Restaurant Delivery Efficiency

When a customer places a delivery order, odds are their stomachs are already growling. Though they used to waiting for the delivery to arrive, if the wait is longer than expected, their hunger will increase---along with their impatience. 

When the time it takes for food to travel from the restaurant to the customer gets too long, pizzas arrive cold, fries get soggy, and frozen desserts melt. If this happens frequently, your reputation and reviews could take serious hits no matter how delicious your food might be when it leaves your kitchen.

Though you can’t control every aspect of the delivery process, it’s important to improve delivery efficiency in the areas you can control---starting with the kitchen.

The kitchen is the engine of your restaurant, the core of the operation, responsible for keeping the wheels turning. Without a smooth-running kitchen, all kinds of breakdowns can occur, from incorrect orders to a hostile work environment. Today, as most restaurants are multi-operational, catering to both on- and off-premise services, it’s critical to keep your kitchen operating like a well-oiled machine.

What Makes For an Efficient Delivery System?

Running a restaurant is a balancing act, and juggling delivery orders with walk-in traffic can be a serious challenge. A more efficient delivery process can relieve some of that pressure by getting customer orders out as quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality or putting too much pressure on your staff. 

With an efficient system, employees understand their role and have the tools they need to do their job efficiently and effectively so operations run smoothly with minimal confusion and fewer bottlenecks slowing things down.

It takes a lot of work to create an efficient delivery system. We’ve put together this list of 11 strategies to help get you started. 

How to Improve Delivery Efficiency 

1. Two Passes in the Kitchen

The more time delivery drivers spend waiting in line with customers, the less fresh their items will be. Setting up two passes in the kitchen, one for take-out and delivery orders and one for counter customers gets orders into drivers’ hands faster and creates a better experience for takeout customers. This also prevents bottlenecks for drivers and servers, creating a better experience for all involved. 

2. Delivery-Specific Menu 

Some dishes fare better in transit than others. Some items are faster to prepare and package than others. And some have higher margins than others. Factor all of that in when deciding which items should be included on your online menu.

Making your most time-consuming and labor-intensive items available in-house only helps keep the kitchen running smoothly. For delivery orders, sticking with dishes that have high profit margins ensures that you’re making enough money for the extra work to be worth it. 

Creating a minimal viable delivery-only menu with items that are best suited for travel is a win-win for your staff and your customers. Not only does this give your team clear expectations about the types of delivery orders they’ll be preparing and packaging, but your customers can enjoy food that arrives fresh at their doorstep in a timely manner.  

3. Digitize the Delivery Process

Most of today’s hungry customers crave convenience above all else, making picking up a phone to place an order feel like an ancient task that's more work than using an app. For those customers, a digital ordering option can make the process of ordering a meal feel effortless. 

When a customer is deciding from where to order their meal, and they remember that your restaurant made the ordering process so painless last time, they are more likely to place repeat orders.

For you, logging delivery orders manually can be time-consuming work, stripping you of precious hours you could be managing other workstreams. Digitizing the delivery order process not only allows you to earn business from customers who prefer placing orders online, but it makes tracking orders simpler. 

Even for restaurant owners who enjoy the personal touch of a phone conversation, having a digital solution in the mix can help expand order capacity and streamline information-logging and accounting tasks. 

4. Prioritize Delivery Orders

Running your kitchen on a first-come, first-served basis with delivery, pickup, and dine-in orders all in the same line might not be the best approach. For delivery orders, you have to factor in transit time on top of meal prep time. 

If you prioritize an onsite order, you could extend the delivery customer’s wait by over an hour, while preparing the delivery order first only adds a few minutes for the in-restaurant patron.

Strategically prioritizing, weighing priority based on how long particular orders will take to make, how far the delivery is, and how wait times will affect the overall customers’ experience.

5. Let Customers Order in Advance 

Some customers won’t place an order until they’re already hungry, but other people are planners. If you provide them the option to schedule their delivery in advance, you get a head start on fitting them in. Many online ordering systems  include advance scheduling as a feature, so enabling this option at most restaurants is easy.

Advance ordering lets you complete prep work early, making things easier on the kitchen during the busiest times. They also help you make better time estimates on the other orders that come in.

6. Give Realistic Time Estimates

While you could lose immediate business when a potential customer sees a longer wait time for delivery, you risk losing more long-term business if you get your time estimates wrong. Waiting an hour for food doesn’t feel so bad when you know what to expect. But waiting an hour when the app says  it will take 20 minutes is enough to make some customers angry enough to cancel their order and never return. 

With so many variables in play, predicting precise delivery times is tricky.  From the time it takes to prepare an order and how busy the restaurant is to the distance from the restaurant to the dropoff location and traffic are not always the same or predictable, making delivery times difficult to gauge. 

Many online ordering systems can help by providing automatic delivery estimates, and in many cases, they will serve you well. But during busy times when your kitchen or drivers are struggling to keep up, it might be necessary to update delivery estimates manually and communicate any delays to your customers via text or through the app.  

7. Let Customers Track Their Orders in Real-Time

When your restaurant is slammed, fielding phone calls from eager customers asking where their delivery order is only slows things down further. You may not have much control over deliveries once they leave the restaurant, but you do have the power to track the progress of the orders on the way. And many online ordering platforms give you the power to share that information with customers automatically. 

Hungry customers can check how much longer it will be until they can eat, which improves their delivery experience. Restaurants can use that same tracking information to follow their drivers’ progress, note any abnormal traffic conditions they need to factor in, and provide better time estimates on upcoming delivery orders.  

8. Add a Kitchen Expeditor

One of the most important – and hardest – jobs in the kitchen is one that most people probably never heard of. To keep your delivery, take-out, and dine-in services orders flowing, consider adding a designated expeditor in the kitchen. Like an air traffic controller, the expediter sets the kitchen’s rhythm, manages the workflow of the kitchen staff, and ensures that food never waits around. 

A behind the scenes, back-of-house role, expediters are vital to a restaurant’s smooth operation, especially in today’s kitchens where delivery, take-out, and dining room service is all happening simultaneously. They fire dishes, signal cooks when to push ahead and finish a dish, and continuously plan the next move.

The heartbeat of a balanced operation, the food expeditor acts as a liaison between the kitchen staff, waitstaff and delivery staff, ensuring a steady workflow throughout the various departments of a restaurant. 

9. Define Workflows  

Even the most efficient restaurant can feel chaotic during busy times, but creating clearly defined workflows can help to alleviate stress . Each time a delivery order is placed, the staff should know exactly what steps to take and in what order to get that order into the customers’ hands as quickly as possible. While human error is inevitable, designing a workflow that leaves less room for error helps the process to run smoothly as frequently as possible.

Designing a workflow is also a good opportunity to consider ways technology can make life easier for your staff and aid in efficiency. Perhaps the systems you already use offer features you’ve never implemented that could save time and work. Or maybe you’re using multiple products that would all serve you better if you integrated them. When systems work smoothly, it saves time and cuts down on costly mistakes. 

10. Leverage Feedback  

As the person who created and manages the systems that make your operation work,  you may be too close to see what’s happening behind the scenes. But the people involved in the day-to-day operation of these systems see different sides of your delivery process. They can offer unique insights on opportunities for improvement.

Make it safe and judgment-free for employees to give  feedback by creating a culture where they feel comfortable speaking up. Make it clear that you value their opinions, and make genuine efforts to implement changes based on their feedback. Consider setting up regular staff check-ins that give them the chance to voice their opinions in person.

Still, some employees will feel more comfortable providing feedback anonymously. To give them the opportunity to voice their concerns, go the old-fashioned route by leaving a stack of paper surveys for your employees to fill out or develop an online version, depending on which you think will work best.  

Customer feedback is also extremely important. Ask loyal customers directly for feedback on their delivery experience by sending customer surveys. And pay close attention to what delivery customers say in reviews. If they complain about inaccurate time estimates, for example, prioritize improving your estimation process. 

11. Track Delivery Efficiency

In addition to the feedback you receive from people, start tracking metrics that measure delivery efficiency as well, including the average time each item takes to prepare, how often you meet your time estimates, and  how many times you’ve underestimated your arrival times. 

Take Away

An efficient delivery system is one that gets customer orders out the door to the customers’ doorstep as quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality or putting too much pressure on your team. Utilize these strategies to keep your restaurant delivery operations running like a well-oiled machine for efficiency and profitability.


By Eileen Strauss

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