Will that be for here, to-go or for delivery? Baton Rouge restaurants adjust to new business model
HAVE IT YOUR WAY: Taylor Tullos and the staff at Red Zeppelin Pizza offer four ways to enjoy their fare: takeout, drive-thru, delivery service or actually dining at the restaurant. (Photo by Collin Richie)
Explain it anyway you want—busy lifestyles, Baton Rouge gridlock or the swipe-happy habits of millennials—but there’s no question restaurants are seeing a surge in takeout business.
Third-party delivery apps, like market leader Waitr and newcomer UberEats, are a big part of the new reality, but it results from other factors as well, including an increase in weekday corporate catering and more to-go orders placed directly to restaurants. The demand has owners and managers rethinking operations, including where to process takeout orders, how to better train staff and how to change design in future brick-and-mortar locations. The hospitality sector is even mulling issues like how much tips servers or bartenders should expect on to-go orders.
“The takeout business growth has been off the charts,” says City Pork Hospitality Managing Partner Stephen Hightower. “In three years of operations, it’s up about 300 percent. I love it and hate it. It’s something that local operators are talking a lot about these days.”
The upside, of course, is additional sales. At City Pork, to-go orders account for 5% to 8% of overall sales, allowing the two current locations to increase business without giving up seats. Fast-growing Waitr is a large part of that, says Hightower, but City Pork has also seen continued growth in weekday corporate catering and in take home prepared dinners for busy families. Their popular “Take Home Tuesday” is now offered every day of the week.
Consequently, Hightower has added staff to the kitchen and counter to handle the increased volume. And with speed and accuracy essential to a successful takeout business, he’s had to retrain staff on double- and triple-checking orders so that the right one gets to the right customer.
(Photo by Collin Richie)
“The takeout business growth has been off the charts. In three years of operations, it’s up about 300 percent. I love it and hate it. It’s something that local operators are talking a lot about these days.”
—STEPHEN HIGHTOWER, managing partner, City Pork Hospitality
National Restaurant Association research shows one-third of consumers say that purchasing takeout is an essential part of their lifestyle. Moreover, 46% of adults and 61% of millennials say an important factor in choosing a table service restaurant is its ability to provide takeout or delivery options.
To-go orders have also increased at Bistro Byronz.
“It’s ramped up dramatically,” says Emelie Kantrow Alton, who co-owns and operates the two Bistro Byronz locations in Baton Rouge and a new concept, Flambee Café. “Everyone’s lives have gotten so busy, that for some people, it’s easier not to sit in a restaurant.”
Bistro Byronz sees 15% of sales through takeout at its Mid City restaurant and almost 14% at its Willow Grove location.
The uptick has Alton rethinking how to incorporate the business line into what is a traditional sit-down model. For example, bartenders at Bistro Byronz are charged with processing both Waitr orders—which come through a Waitr-issued iPad—and traditional call-in orders, but if demand continues, Alton says she could also assign server assistants to handle demand. What matters most, says Alton, is funneling this part of the business to the bar, keeping hostesses free from having to field phone calls as dine-in customers enter the restaurants.
“It’s really important to us that when people walk in to dine with us, the first thing they see is not someone on the phone,” she says.
For most restaurants, to-go sales are an essential part of the revenue pie, but they have to be managed vigilantly, says Red Zeppelin Pizza founder and owner Ray vanMerrienboer.
“Our to-go business has hovered at between 43 and 46 percent of sales. It’s huge,” he says, adding Waitr accounts for roughly one-quarter of the total to-go business. “It’s important to let people get to you in as many ways as possible, but it’s a bull ride.”
On weekends, the Southdowns area pizzeria packs in patrons to its modest dining room and outdoor patio, while a steady pipeline of Waitr drivers retrieve delivery orders from the bar. Patrons in vehicles also line up at the drive-thru window. “People are busy, and a lot of them just don’t want to get out of their cars,” vanMerrienboer says.
In fact, one factor that drew vanMerrienboer to Red Zeppelin’s location (a former Perkins Road Church’s Chicken) was its existing drive-thru window. His bartenders field orders, while they and server assistants handle each advancing customer.
vanMerrienboer says there’s no grousing among employees about the difference between tips on takeout orders at the window versus full-service tips at the table.
“Most people are tipping something nowadays for takeout orders,” he says. “And the volume at the window is huge.”
Next door, Southfin Southern Poké has also seen a dramatic rise in takeout orders due to several factors. Like Red Zeppelin, the restaurant has its own drive in window and it works with Waitr. But it also has its own online ordering system and app, which drives the majority of its takeout orders, says Operations Manager Brad Mire.
“The to-go business is really top of mind in everything we do now, including thinking about new locations,” Mire says. “It’s the way people eat, and it’s not daypart specific. We’re seeing it big at lunch and dinner.”
Southfin Southern Poké’s forthcoming location in a Corporate Boulevard strip mall can’t accommodate a drive-thru window, but it will feature designated parking places for to-go orders and a separate service line inside the restaurant. Possible future locations of the quick-service concept, says Mire, will incorporate design features that enhance the takeout experience.
Mestizo owner Jim Urdiales is also adjusting to a higher percentage of to-go orders, largely through Waitr.
“After we saw what a success it was, we modified our POS (point of sale) system to be able to track Waitr orders, and it’s been remarkable to watch the numbers,” Urdiales says. “There are couple of things that you really have to keep in mind though. You can’t always predict when you’ll see a surge, so it’s hard to plan, but you know that the worse the weather is, the more you’ll sell.”
Last November, the percentage Waitr was charging restaurants jumped from 3% to 15%, in keeping with third-party delivery apps. UberEats, for example, keeps 25% of every order. The increase triggered many Waitr restaurants, including Mestizo’s, to pass the charge on to customers.
“You sort of have to,” he says. “In some cases, you might only see a 2 to 3 percent return on a plate of food, so if you’re paying 15 percent, you’re losing money.”