Web Exclusive: Leveraging Online Ordering and Delivery


By Nicole Di Tomasso

TORONTO — At the recent RC Show held in Toronto, Stephanie Donnan, city manager at Uber Eats, moderated a discussion between Michel Falcon, owner of Brasa Peruvian Kitchen, and Yianni Fountas, senior director of Emerging Brands and Partnerships and Strategic Projects and Business Insights at Recipe Unlimited, about leveraging online ordering, alcohol delivery and virtual-kitchen operations to cope with the pandemic, better serve their customers and transform the future of the industry. 

The session, titled Leveraging Online Ordering and Delivery, began with an overview of how consumer behaviour has changed throughout the pandemic.

“Looking at the digitalization of the guest journey, the way people are coming in and the expectations on the service and ambience of the restaurant still remain, but we’re starting to see how people interact with the brands and what they expect to curate their own experience, whether it’s ordering off a QR-code menu or paying via mobile self-pay,” said Fountas. “It has put a demand on our business to find creative solutions to help address those needs, while also balancing the volume of the off-premise business.”

“One of the things we noticed about consumer behaviour is [the sense of] immediacy. During the pandemic, we were all at home and got used to items being delivered to us in an expedited fashion, and that extended beyond food,” said Falcon. “On the employee side of things, [we thought about] how we create learning and development materials to be able to serve that immediacy. As operators, it’s our responsibility to be able to create those learning modules for our team members because people don’t fail, systems do. It’s our learning systems that need to be the things that support our team members in order to create the best experience for our guests.”

The speakers then discussed the changes in online ordering since restaurants re-opened dining rooms and operations have returned to normal.

“The weather is nicer now. Patios are very attractive, so we have seen a dip in our digital sales naturally. But we’re not going to sit on our hands because when we became omni-channel, it was omni-channel forever, not just during the pandemic,” said Falcon. “To circumvent the decline… we’re looking at everything from social media to email lists to SMS, and we don’t have the silver bullet because this is all new to everybody. We’re overturning every stone to figure out how to get it back.”

Fountas, on the other hand, said that “while delivery sales weren’t as high in April and May compared to January, the levels we were seeing at this time last year remain.” He went on to say that the biggest difference Recipe Unlimited has seen is the “evolution of the restaurant.” Delivery drivers would often crowd the front areas of restaurants, so the pandemic allowed the company to re-think the process to ensure easy hand-off of food.

The session closed with Fountas highlighting virtual-kitchen opportunities as a way to expand operators’ delivery business, but Falcon said the virtual-kitchen model didn’t work for his business.

“When it’s not your facility, we had to think about who we were sharing space with. We’re very strict with our company culture and values. One of the objections I had was our neighbouring restaurants were jerks. They’re always yelling, and I don’t want my team in that environment,” said Falcon. “There’s no one size fits all. Look at it and be honest with what type of company you have. Third-party virtual kitchens could very well work for you, it just didn’t work for us.”

“We’re in the infancy stage of what we’re seeing in ghost kitchens. Whatever nomenclature has been developed of ghost kitchens, virtual kitchens, dark kitchens and cloud kitchens, they’ll continue to evolve,” said Fountas. “There will continue to be new innovative models as new business needs and objectives come up that can leverage either existing or new infrastructure.”

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