How to save money — and avoid talking to anyone — when ordering takeout

November 2, 2016

By Alessandra Malito
MerketWatch
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-save-money-and-avoid-talking-to-anyone-when-ordering-takeout-2016-11-02?siteid=rss

Tech companies are entering the food delivery scene in full force; here’s how to capitalize

The way people order takeout food has evolved.

Instead of using a phone to call a restaurant, many now use their phones to access apps like Facebook FB, -0.59% or GrubHub GRUB, +0.46% to place food orders. Even though it costs more than cooking at home, it’s still possible to save a few bucks for those nights you just want to order in, especially now that there are so many services available.

Tech giants Google GOOG, -0.88% , Facebook and Amazon AMZN, -1.07% have entered the food delivery races. A Google Maps for iOS update lets users “place an order” from restaurants in major cities with a button on its app, 9to5 Mac reported last week. Amazon expanded its one-hour delivery service for its Prime members to Brooklyn. Facebook jumped in last month with an option to start an order from a restaurant’s page.

“More restaurants are doing mobile ordering, and because of that the younger consumer is definitely engaging,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a food-service and restaurant research and consulting firm. “Today using your mobile device with either an app or the internet becomes a very good, strong option.”

The fans of the hit 2000s show “Gilmore Girls,” which is returning for a four-episode revival on NFLX, +0.43% later this month, may find this familiar ­­— main characters Lorelai and Rory Gilmore hardly ever had a home-cooked meal on the show, opting instead for takeout and delivery for nearly every meal. Though that is somewhat of an exaggeration of real life, Americans do spend $1,100 a year on average ordering food online, according to turkey company Butterball, which surveyed 1,000 people last year. One in 20 ordered every one or two days, and 25% ordered delivery or takeout at least once a week, the study found.

Online orders may soon beat phone orders. About 904 million online orders were placed in May 2015, up from 403 million in May 2010, while 1.02 billion phone delivery orders were placed in May 2015, down from 1.39 billion in May 2010, according to research firm NPD Group.

The interest from tech companies and restaurants may be the popularity from delivery startups, such as GrubHub, Seamless some of which these tech companies are using on the back end to see their deliveries through. Ride-hailing app Uber has been on the delivery scene since 2014, though it launched its stand-alone food delivery app earlier this year. These services give those at home or at work takeout options from local businesses without having to eat in, or step into, those establishments.

Americans’ annual expenditures on food away from home jumped 7.9% from 2014 to 2015, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, while food at home expenses jumped only 1.1% over that same period. The change doesn’t necessarily mean more people are ordering takeout, but that prices are going up, said Warren Solochek, president of food service practice at the NPD Group.

“If you’re working from home, restaurants have to do a lot more to incentivize people to go to a restaurant,” Solochek said. “I can order from GrubHub or I can go to the refrigerator, and guess what, I have most of my meal right there.”

Still, there are ways you can save, even when you do grab for your phone. Here are three:

1. Look for deals: Check food delivery sites or do a quick web search for promo codes before placing an order. Amazon is offering a $10 off code to its Prime members for its one-hour restaurant delivery and other services like Seamless and GrubHub periodically provide discounts for users, such as during the presidential election. Some sites also have first-time user deals.

2. Avoid additional fees: Double check your bill total to ensure you know exactly what you’re paying for, since some sites may tack on additional fees. Uber announced late last month that even its UberEATS service in certain cities would be subject to surge pricing, when there are more orders than drivers. The company said in its announcement the extra fee will appear as a separate line item before checkout and on the receipt.

3. Participate in referral programs: Seamless gives back to those who refer their service, in the form of $7 for every friend. In fact, both parties win — those referred get $7 off their first order and once they try the service, so will the one who recommended Seamless.


Go Greek

February 10, 2016

Restaurant executive Nick Vojnovic joined Tampa-based Little Greek Fresh Grill in 2011. Photo by Mark Wemple

Restaurant executive Nick Vojnovic found a novel way to beat back a mid-life crisis after he moved on from a decade-long gig running sports pub chain Beef ‘O’ Brady’s.

Forget the convertible or the Harley. Vojnovic went back to school. He enrolled at University of South Florida, where he earned an M.B.A. in about 18 months, mostly in weekend classes. At 51, and already with a degree from Cornell University’s famed hospitality school, Vojnovic says he learned a lot from the experience — both in life and academically. “It was humbling,” says Vojnovic. “My 13-year-old daughter had to show me how to make up a power point presentation.”

Five years later, Vojnovic, 56, is back in his comfort zone, helping upstart restaurant franchise operators go from the toddler stage to something more mature. Vojnovic is doing that with Tampa-based Little Greek Fresh Grill. The concept, founded by entrepreneur Sigrid Bratic in 2005, is authentic Greek food in a fast-casual setting.

Little Greek is on a big run under Vojnovic. It has gone from four locations in 2011, when Vojnovic partnered with Bratic, to 25 by the end of last year. And system-wide sales have nearly doubled since 2013, from $7.4 million to $14 million in 2015.

The chain also recently picked up some national industry notoriety. Restaurant News named it a breakout brand, and more recently, national foodservice research firm Technomic named Little Greek one of its six franchises to watch in 2016. “Little Greek Fresh Grill is a fast-growing concept in an under penetrated fast-casual Mediterranean growth segment,” Technomic President Darren Tristano says in a statement. “The experience and knowledge of its leadership team, speed to market and accelerated success put Little Greek in a strong position to be a category leader.”

Vojnovic, with his M.B.A. and his on-the-job leadership experience at Beef’s and Famous Dave’s barbecue chain, is more cautious than the complements. That’s because growing too fast is one of his biggest takeaway lessons from Beef’s. The chain grew from 30 locations and $16 million in annual sales to 270 chains doing $250 million a year in sales during his 12 years at the helm, from 1998-2010. The downside to that fast growth is it led to a litany of issues, from poor store openings to underprepared staff to back-office slowdowns.

The goal is to open up to seven Little Greek stores in 2016. Locations include Lakewood Ranch in east Manatee County, Riverview in Hillsborough County and Kennesaw, Ga. Vojnovic says he intends to make sure every location focuses on all of the company’s five core values, which include passion, integrity and constant improvement.

On continuous improvement, Vojnovic has many items on his to-do list. It includes better training systems so employees can be more efficient; streamlining food purchasing and other costs to lower expenses; and instituting a process of audit and store visits to bring uniformed quality control to the chain.

Vojnovic also addressed an external challenge: Greek food has a certain turn-off level to people who don’t know the culture and flavors. One step there was to put the American version of the food first on the menu followed by the Greek words, such as spinach pie (spanakopita.) “People can be intimidated by gyros and souvlaki,” says Vojnovic. “We Americanized the menu.”

Going back to his Beef’s lessons, Vojnovic does more to share financial metrics with franchisees and managers. For example, each franchisee has access to daily sales data so he can spot trends quickly. And all franchisees share profit and loss figures on a regular basis, to come up with ideas and get in front of problems.

“I’m a big believer in constantly trying to improve yourself,” says Vojnovic. “(But) I’m working harder at this than I thought I would. We still have a long way to go.”

By the numbers
Little Greek Fresh Grill
Year Revenues Percent Growth
2013 $7.47 million
2014 $10.47 million 40%
2015 $14 million 33.7%


Take the Grub and Run

September 9, 2015

Karen Robinson-Jacos and Laurie Joseph
Copyright 2015 The Dallas Morning News. All Rights Reserved.

Between killer work schedules, soccer games and sagging skill levels, many adults don’t have the inclination to prepare a three-course meal, or the time to sit in a restaurant and enjoy one. That helps account for the growth in “off-premise” dining, where a restaurant chef does the cooking and you enjoy the meal in front of your TV. Now technology, including apps that allow hungry consumers to order and pay in advance, is expected to make restaurant dining rooms even emptier.

Fiesta Restaurant Group

Addison-based Fiesta Restaurant Group, which operates the fast-casual chains Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical, hopes to double its current off-premise business over the next 10 years and has hired its first corporate director of off-premise consumption. The new director, Willie Romeo, will focus on to-go, online ordering, catering, drive-through and mobile app orders.

Corner Bakery Café

Off-premise sales** at Dallas-based Corner Bakery Café have been growing about a percentage point a year. Next year, the 24-year-old company hopes to begin testing its first drive-through lane.

Mooyah Burgers

Plano-based Mooyah, which competes in the “better burger” space, is looking to boost its to-go business. The company has opened two locations with drive-through lanes but is not focusing on that model.

Essential takeout

More than a third of working-age adults consider buying to-go food “essential” to the way they live, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Deliveries on the rise

At fast-food restaurants, more than 70% of the orders are eaten off-site. Figures from the NPD Group show that delivery orders, which account for the smallest segment, saw the largest percentage growth rate for the year that ended in June.

There’s an app for that

Restaurant chains including Plano-based Pizza Hut and its corporate cousin Taco Bell, along with Starbucks, Subway and others have rolled out apps that allow you to order, pay ahead of time, and just pick the food up on the fly. Look for more chains to launch their own apps or to partner with players like http://www.orderaheadapp.com (not available yet in North Texas) or MasterCard’s Qkr.

The bottom line

“The biggest thrust for operators has been in the catering area to promote off-premise sales opportunities. Most of the growth in takeout has been in independent restaurants that have changed their business model to accommodate takeout opportunities for their customers. Also, there have been a lot of delivery discussions from brands such as Uber and Postmates.”

Darren Tristano, executive vice president, Technomic restaurant research service

“We are seeing that currently on-premise visits are growing while off-premise is holding steady or declining. That partly has to do with generational differences. Millennials are cutting back on restaurant visits. They were more inclined to use off premise. Baby boomers are now heavier restaurant users and they have a tendency to eat on premise.”

Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst, NPD Group

“‘What’s for dinner, Mom?’ was sometimes the scariest question I heard all day. With healthier restaurant options and technology that helps meal-pickup-time fit your schedule, restaurants can grow revenue and reduce the strain on the dining room during peak periods.”