As the country’s appetite for food delivery grows and the market inches towards a projected $15.9 billion by 2020, restaurants are under pressure to adapt.
More and more, that means altering the physical restaurant space so it can better accommodate this influx of new orders. Extra meals require extra bodies to cook and package the food, after all, not to mention extra space for third-party devices, and somewhere to put completed orders waiting to be picked up by a delivery driver.
It’s wishful thinking to believe that a food delivery industry standard will emerge, since every business has its own unique space — and therefore, its own unique needs. Instead, restaurants are trying out different approaches; some on a large scale, some on a smaller one. A handful of promising ones have emerged when it comes to creatively solving the space issue.
For those with room to expand, creating a separate entrance and/or delivery area is one option.
Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen just opened a location in Ft. Worth, TX that includes “Cheddar’s first dedicated carry-out area.” It’s close to the kitchen but separate from the main dining room and has its own entrance with direct access to the parking lot. For a Grubhub or UberEats driver, this is a potentially huge timesaver, as picking up an order no longer involves weaving through crowds around the bar and flagging down an employee’s attention.
Velvet Taco conceptualized a separate entrance for to-go orders long before the delivery boom went off. The Dallas, TX-based chain offers its famed “backdoor chicken” order, where customers stroll up to the back door, hand over $20, and get a bag of goodies in return, rotisserie chicken and tortillas included. Adjusting for more delivery orders was just a matter of routing them along the same path. Third-party services (Velvet Taco works with several of the usual suspects) collect orders at the back door of the chain’s Austin, TX location. Meanwhile, a brand-new Dallas, TX location also includes a pickup window that can be accessed via a dedicated parking lot.
If a second door isn’t an option, there are still plenty of ways to work with space inside the restaurant’s four walls.
Culiver City, CA-based Tender Greens divides its customers into two lines: one for walk-ins, one for delivery and order-ahead takeout. That logic applies to the kitchen as well, where cooks are split into two separate lines so those prepping in-house orders aren’t bogged down by the number of tickets for delivery. At the chain’s El Segundo, CA location, even the furniture pulls double duty: a bartop functions by day as a counter for preparing to-go orders, then becomes communal seating for sit-down customers. Ditto for Tender Greens’ flagship NYC location at Union Square, which features 14-foot shelves, separate from the dining room, where third-party delivery services can grab their designated orders and go (a nearby area provides the same convenience for customers picking up food).
Some restaurants are scrapping dining room altogether. Enter the ghost kitchen, the cloud kitchen, or whatever you want to call it. These establishments operate with delivery-only models, where there’s no front of house and cooks serve up orders solely for delivery drivers to pick up.
The Green Summit Group gets a lot of press in this space for its commissary kitchens in NYC and Chicago, which work exclusively with Grubhub. These guys basically run multiple “restaurants” whose operations are housed in the same kitchen and whose food is cooked by the same chefs.
There’s an economical attraction to ghost kitchens, of course. Those using ghost kitchens don’t have to worry about buying equipment, hiring a new staff for every new location, or even providing simple things like cutlery and tablecloths. Businesses who can’t, or don’t want to, deal with these elements or lock themselves into a 10-year lease and buy their own equipment can also look to folks like Kitchen United, who operates a shared kitchen space available for hourly or monthly rent which can house up to 15 restaurant operations. “When a restaurant operator comes to a KU kitchen, they get a virtual restaurant solution,” Kitchen United CEO, Jim Collins told Chris Albrecht a few months ago.
So is the dining room dying? Absolutely not. Dining out as an experience will be with us until customers run out of money or the Food Network runs out of celebrity chefs to create. Anyway, delivery wasn’t designed to replace the Michelin star, or (probably) even the Olive Garden; it’s just an easier, faster way to get a basic dinner without having to go to much trouble. Restaurants are starting to realize its importance and adjust their spaces accordingly.