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So just what is Delivery Engine Optimisation (DEO)? Or: How restaurants can increase their market share in the food delivery industry

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Move over, old food acronyms – there is a new kid in town – DEO.

But just what is DEO and how can it help your restaurant or food business?

DEO is Delivery Engine Optimisation. It’s a set of protocols to follow if you are serious about increasing your food business with delivery services.

And in 2021, more than ever before, deliveries in the restaurant business are where the serious growth is going to be made. Competition is tough – and it’s only going to get tougher. Which is why, if you run a restaurant, you need to know all about DEO.

Delivery Engine Optimisation is about leveraging your relationship with delivery companies and what you can do to be listed higher (translation: how to get more orders).

If this describes you – then read on.

We’ve broken this article down into three sections – think of them as a starter, main course and (always the best bit) dessert.

    • Starter – we’ll define what DEO is and why you need it
    • The Main – Optimising your work with delivery companies:
      • The three main types of delivery model available
      • All the extras to consider to optimise working with your partner of choice
    • Dessert – What to do to be listed higher and get more orders! If you only want one takeaway from this article – this is probably it.

We hope that you enjoy this small feast we have laid for you.


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Starter: Delivery Engine Optimisation – Why you need it

First – a little background. Forgive us if you already know all this – but there is still a large percentage of restaurant businesses who have not yet dipped into takeaway and/or food delivery, so some scene-setting is necessary.

In money terms, the UK currently accounts for around 40% of all European takeaway revenue.

Food delivery app revenue in the UK alone has grown from $2.6 billion in 2015 to $5.9 billion in 2020 – and was expected to grow to $9.4 billion by 2025 (sources: Deloitte, Statista, MCA, AHDB)

We say ‘was’, as this was before the continuing impact of a global pandemic was taken into account.

For example – the revenue above was the result of the number of UK food delivery users growing year on year, from 13.6 million (2015) to a staggering 24.8 million in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, the largest jump in food delivery usage was from 2019-2020. 2021+ is set to witness an even bigger rise – far more than is currently being projected.

 

If you are in the restaurant business – then you need to deliver

To deliver the results you want, you need to know about DEO

 

It is an unavoidable fact that Covid-19 has impacted the way most people live their lives – and this includes eating and food delivery services.

Many restaurants have survived up to this point (many, sadly have not) but the survivors in 2021 (and, possibly, 2022) will be the ones who take the Darwinian approach and adapt.

And this means everywhere – not just in the UK. Worldwide in 2020, 60% of all dining experiences were off-premises.

So this is why, as a restaurant, or other food delivery business, you need to know about Delivery Engine Optimisation.

Even if you already run a delivery service, it needs to be sharper and more focussed – indeed, optimised – as the stakes (steaks?) are high and your real competition is only just warming up.


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Main: Optimising your work with food delivery companies

For modern restaurant food delivery, there are only three main choices to seriously consider, and which one is best for you depends on several factors, not least location, potential market and so on:

    • Set up your own website/mobile app and run everything yourself
    • Work with an order aggregator, who handles ordering and payments on your behalf
    • Partner with a delivery platform – as above, but they handle delivery as well

 

Set up your own delivery service and app

Setting up a website and mobile app of your own (yes – you will need both) can be appealing as you stay in control of everything. The downsides, however, are that you have just created a whole new heap of work for yourself – plus you have to market like crazy to get the word out that you are now in the delivery market.

A quick conversation with a couple of app creation companies will reveal that people can be surprisingly reluctant to download a new personal app (one that is not for business) and – if they finally do – on average, they delete it again within 32 minutes.

You’ll need to work hard to get the word out about your new food delivery service and then work harder to get people to try it.

You’ll need to develop an online (app) ordering and secure payment system too – because when you succeed, you don’t want to be doing any of this over the telephone.

As with almost any business you can name, data is key. Orders, past orders, what sells, what doesn’t, when are you busy and when are you quietest?

So you will need a great CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system as well, to keep track of customers and orders.

 

Work with an order aggregator

Order aggregators take away a large serving of organisational headache off your plate.

They run a website and app offering various food takeaways from different restaurants, and when an order comes in they take payment and pass the order on to you for fulfilment and delivery.

Obviously, they take a small charge in exchange for this service, but they save you a lot of effort and also already have great marketing and exposure, which could take you years to replicate.

Having already done much of the hard work for you, these food apps have been carving out their market share since day one and will save you from reinventing this particular wheel.

 

Partner with a delivery platform

As above, a delivery platform is an order aggregator who handles promotion, marketing, order taking and payment processing for you – but also takes away the burden of delivery.

If you do not already have your own delivery systems in place, then this kind of arrangement can be a perfect solution.

The costs you will pay the platform in charges will be offset by the increased exposure you get from their (usually) national coverage and marketing.

Here, we are talking the likes of Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Food Panda, Zomato and Swiggy.

This leaves you to focus on what you do best – create amazing food and get it ready for collection.

These partnerships can have a major impact on your bottom line, opening up new lines of sales that were not available to you before.

Their online presence is huge – which means that yours could be too.

 

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Delivery Engine Optimisation (DEO) of your business

Regardless of which path you follow out of the options above, DEO – optimising for food delivery – is still essential.

Often, partnering with a delivery platform represents the greater ROI opportunities for most restaurants. But whatever your circumstances, these protocols will still apply to you.

 

Make sure your restaurant brand and packaging are on point

Whatever food leaves your premises, it needs to be branded (unless there is a different branding agreement with the delivery company).

Your name needs to be out there – word of mouth is still an amazing tool that is too often underrated. Your customer has had a great meal? They need to be talking about it and they need to be talking about you.

Presentation (more on this later) and packaging need to be considered carefully. Fair enough – presentation is not the same with delivered food but package it up well and great plating up can still be done by the customer in their home. Throw everything in one box together and all they will have delivered is a mess!

Use branded packaging – throw in some branded napkins as well – and keep putting your name out there. If your food is good, then the branding will pay off.

 

Keep your menu simple

Few restaurants with extensive menus can successfully recreate their entire menu in a takeaway/deliverable manner – and it’s often best not to try.

Streamline your menu so that it is simple to read and simple to decide. The old adage of perusing the delivery menu for 30 minutes before ordering “exactly what you always do” stems from takeaway restaurants that have such a long menu, customers get decision fatigue. Keeping things simple actually increases the chances of an order. It sounds counter-intuitive, but too much choice drives people away.

So strip down your menu to the most popular items that repeatedly sell, add in a couple of specials if you are set up for it, and run with that.

If you have a large and varied menu and need to offer it, then for online ordering, break it down into identifiable groups (eg. Pasta, Indian food, steaks). Many restaurants do this anyway, but for delivery and online ordering, you need to make it super simple.

When partnering with a platform, take time to look at their app and ordering system – is it simple to navigate and use? If not, then it will cost you business. Make this a part of your decision-making process when choosing who to partner with. It goes without saying that if you develop and run your own ordering service – keep it simple!

 

Reorganise your kitchen if needed

From ordering to delivery, most customers are happy to wait 30 minutes – but not much more. If you need to rearrange a few things to streamline your kitchen service for delivery food then do so.

Nothing loses orders faster than telling a customer that there’s an hour wait for their food delivery – they will simply order elsewhere.

While we are on this point – be punctual. If you agree with your delivery service platform that food will be ready to pick up 20 minutes after ordering, then make sure that it is. They will be there, and they will not want to wait.

They also don’t want the hassle of dealing with angry customers (more on this later).

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Be prepared to adapt and change

Unless provided by your platform/aggregator service, employ a data collection system that monitors your order information.

Frequently analyse the data to keep a check on your strongest lines, spot trends in food types and order times. Your all-time most popular eat-in menu items may not even make it into your top-10 takeout dishes.

People ordering delivery food do not usually want to recreate the restaurant experience in their own home – they want a takeaway! And that is an entirely different experience.

Tracking data will also help you become more efficient at food prep, as you will get a feel for what will be popular on certain days.

You may be surprised to learn that this can be far more predictable than restaurant dining, as customers at home will often order the same style (if not identical) food repeatedly – more so than in a restaurant setting.

Until recently, (2019-2020) around 74% of food delivery orders have been placed on Friday-Sunday, although going into 2021 and more lockdown, this may change. So it pays to keep aware.

Data should become your best friend – so keep a close eye on it from day one.

 

Create a new menu

Many restaurants make the mistake of simply posting a copy of their printed menu online for customers to order from.

An online menu should be created and designed separately – you are marketing to a different crowd. If you are using an order or delivery aggregator, then they will often require descriptions and photographs of each dish in a certain format.

There are several approaches to this, such as hiring a professional photographer, but often the easiest way is to use a menu photo app, which does most of the hard (professional) work for you.

Food app screen image small

Great food delivery always begins with great food photography

 

Presentation, as you will already know, is incredibly important for food. In a study on food presentation, it was discovered that people are prepared to pay more for nicer looking food. So make sure your menu photography is as good as it can be.

 


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Dessert: What to do to get listed higher with a delivery company

(Otherwise known as Delivery Engine Optimisation of your service).

Let’s start by being clear about one thing; delivery platforms are brilliant for most restaurants wanting to step into food delivery for the first time.

As we have already touched upon, they have the financial resources, the marketing, the exposure and market share – not to mention efficient delivery logistics – already in place.

But once you have ‘joined the club’ there is still plenty of scope for promoting yourself within the system.

The delivery team is your gateway to – literally – thousands of new customers, and you want to be doing everything you can to be promoted to them above the many other food services and restaurants who use the same platform.

The data shows that around 80% of all customers never (or only rarely) leave their usual delivery platform for another one.

Translated, this means that, if the company has, say, 20,000 users in your area, then you have immediate potential access to 20,000 customers, regularly, every time they want to eat.

So it is your duty to yourself and your business to promote yourself within the delivery platform as best you can.

And you do this by – you’ve guessed right – DEO.

With exposure, promotion, ordering, payment processing and delivery all being outsourced, you can focus on your food and on optimising the service you provide within the delivery system.

Here are a few areas to consider. But always keep in mind – the more orders you take, the more valuable you are to the delivery company, and the more they will push your food to their customers.

 

Take the best food photos!

Yes, we have already mentioned this – but it is one of the most important secrets to successful selling within a food delivery platform.

There are many, many studies on food (let’s face it – it’s one of the best things to study).

This study revealed that – if well presented – food is assumed by the customer to be of a higher quality. They further assume that neat food presentation means the food came from a higher quality restaurant and that more care had been taken with its presentation.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this. Many delivery platforms – if not all – have minimum requirements for image quality when you are creating your menu for their website/app.

This is not because they are being awkward – it’s because they know the above data, and they know that better-presented food sells better.

Customers always eat with their eyes first – you already know this – and online ordering makes this especially true.

One of the most common frustrations that restaurants face when first registering with a delivery platform (or any food service aggregator) is one of food image quality.

You can prepare a few dozen delicious meals, photograph them all and then discover that the platform rejects half of them due to image quality. It can be an incredible waste of time and food!

One option is to use a professional photographer – great results but can be costly.

Another option is to take the photos yourself but with professional help.

Food app screen image large

And if that help can come in the form of a handy, intelligent smartphone app, then you can immediately save around 90% of the cost of a professional photographer.

Successful results? Yes. Happy delivery platform because you upload perfect photos every time? Definitely.

Try the food photo app today

And if you do – then congratulations. You’ve just ticked off another item on the Delivery Engine Optimisation checklist.

Increase your brand awareness

One thing that always goes down well with delivery platforms is getting a brand on their books.

OK – so you may not be Burger King, but you may be well known in your local area and get a lot of local traction for the platform because of it.

Be active in your brand marketing. Branding is not restricted to logo-printed delivery packaging.

You have your website (we presume) and you should have a good presence on social media. Brand marketing is another important element of Delivery Engine Optimisation.

If you are not sure about your brand assets and how best to leverage them – then get an outside opinion. Brand asset reviews can be a great way to get some expert help on your marketing strategy.

 

Social media and customer interaction

Another way to make the most of DEO is to fully utilise your presence on social media.

Aside from the ‘usual’ posts of menu updates and food photographs, you should be interacting with your customers.

Create a #hashtag for your restaurant and encourage anyone who orders and eats your food to post a picture on Instagram – or Facebook, or any other social platforms.

Run a competition for the best photo of the month on Instagram. Have a free prize draw on Facebook for anyone who likes your page and shares a post you create.

Social media marketing – if done well – is free advertising and is also a means to get your customers promoting you to their friends as well.

Social media marketing uses the power of friends’ referrals to ramp up its impact.

And social media marketing will increase your Delivery Engine Optimisation.

 

Special offer campaigns

When you run a campaign, be sure to inform your delivery platform and ask them to promote it as well.

Special offers and deals are what increases their orders, so anytime one of their restaurant partners is running a promotion, they push it too!

This is an ideal way to get listed higher on your delivery platform – and it is a win-win for everybody.

The platform gets more orders – you get more sales – and your customers get a great deal on a meal.

Blend a special offer, a social media campaign, a ‘share’ promotion on Facebook and a bump up the listings on your delivery platform and you are on to a clear winner and will be witnessing the power of a great DEO strategy.

 

Branch out with virtual restaurants

What is a virtual restaurant and how can it help your DEO?

Let’s stick to a simple example using burgers and pizza.

Imagine you are running a quality burger establishment, you are well known and you have already successfully transitioned onto a delivery platform. Things are going well – but your kitchen has spare capacity and you decide to start providing pizza as well since you have studied the data and believe there is room in the market for another quality pizza place.

One option is to announce that your burger restaurant is now serving pizza and you begin to take orders on the delivery platform as usual. After a brief flurry of orders made, out of curiosity, from platform customers – you suddenly realise that your total food orders are more or less the same as before, only now, as pizza orders rise, your burger sales take a hit and your kitchen is no busier than previously.

What has happened (and this does happen, time and time again) is that your regular burger customers remain your customers and just occasionally fancy a pizza instead. They are not ordering more from you, they are merely swapping one order for another.

You will attract a few pizza orders from new customers who wish to ‘try you out’ but generally, as you have a well-known reputation for your amazing burgers, most customers will stick to their existing pizza restaurant because they like it and because “a pizza place does better pizza than a burger place”.

And this is where virtual restaurants can make a difference.

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When you begin to create your pizza business – you do it under a different name. A pizza brand. New name, new logo, new website, new brand. You have a launch event (online, on your food delivery platform) and make a big splash.

Here’s the point: your platform knows you are one and the same – but the customer doesn’t.

Now you are a specialist pizza place – service the best pizza in town! You will pick up far more cross-business doing this – and keep it (as long as your pizza is good).

And since you are not paying out for new premises, new staff, new anything – you have an immediate win over any actual new business that is trying to fill the same void. You have a distinct competitive edge – zero setup costs.

And further down the road, if you repeat the same again with, say, Indian cuisine and then Chinese, by keeping the brands separate and distinct, you are not overloading your customers with too much choice.

You are not offering them burgers and pizza and Indian and Chinese and creating a decision fatigue scenario.

They are choosing the type of food they wish to order and they are looking at just your burger menu or just your pizza menu, and so on.

Expanding your business in this way – should you do so – is a great Delivery Engine Optimisation tactic.

Delivery platforms love it and will love you for it, because they now have an additional two, three or four ‘restaurants’ to offer – yet they have no extra overhead in terms of four extra businesses to deal with. Just the one – you – and they have you on their system anyway.

 

Offer amazing service

Not only does your customer benefit from great service – but so does your delivery platform.

A part of DEO strategy is to always offer outstanding service – every time. Your delivery platform will be the one having to handle the complaints if there are any – and they don’t want to have to.

To improve your listing status with your platform – make sure all the customer feedback they get about you is positive. A restaurant that fails to deliver (either literally, or in terms of quality or value) will cause problems for their delivery platform and that means they will suffer. The platform will not promote them, of list them well in their marketing and recommendations, as the restaurant will come to be seen as a ‘problem partner’. In extreme cases, they may be dropped altogether.

Enhance your DEO by simply doing what you do best – great food, great value and great service!

 

Customer reviews

When you get a great customer review – don’t just share it on your website – share it with your delivery platform.

They will often promote you with one or two reviews anyway – so keep them fresh and updated.

Good reviews are something else you should be sharing on social media – along with photos of your food, new dishes on the menu and so on.

But always remember that, aside from the quality of the food itself, the quality of the photograph is the next most important element.

When online, every communication with your customers is visual.

 

Make great food!

Finally – make great food!

Everything else we have discussed will not work if, at the end of the day, what is being served up on the plate is only mediocre.

Serve up a streamlined menu, organise your kitchen so that the workflow is unhindered throughout the order – prep and cook – packaging process – and all timed so that it is ready right on time for collection at the appointed hour.

If you are serving amazing food, then the widest possible customer base deserves to experience it – so do everything you can to help them to.

 

Brush up on your Delivery Engine Optimisation skills today – and look forward to a successful 2021.

 

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