Once upon a time, time was not a stressor. Quite the opposite was the norm. People enjoyed long, leisurely periods of relaxation and sat at meals in corporate or campus cafeterias, conversing with colleagues and friends. ‘Portability’ was not a word used in conjunction with food items.
Not so in the time-pressured world we live in today. Constraints on our personal time abound and are beginning to impact the way foodservice providers think about meeting the needs of their customers.
Getting it to go: “It’s not surprising,” says Juliette Boone, a consultant with HVS International in Boulder, CO. “Portability is a big trend today. At golf clubs, we’re hearing about guests who no longer want to sit in the restaurant. They want the food to go. And hotel guests are asking for healthy, fresh foods that satisfy cravings and are put together to go.”
In response, across all segments operators are beginning to explore ways to meet these demands, finding ways to address the logistics and labor intensity of direct delivery to the customer, wherever that may be.
At AOL’s headquarters in Dulles, VA, for example, delivery service began when it became apparent that corporate executives were running into problems when they tried to send their executive assistants down to the cafeteria to pick up meals, according to Business Services Manager Lori Prantil.
“The EAs were [often] too busy to come down, so we decided to deliver to their offices,” explains Prantil. “We tailor menus to individual tastes and we make sure certain items that various executives like are on the menu. We change the [delivery] menu around less often than in the cafes.”
It’s more expensive to operate this way, she notes, observing that in today’s cost-conscious culture, some operators might not want to take that route. AOL is currently building an executive dining facility.
Variety of solutions: Others, such as Damien Monticello, food service liaison at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, are starting to take a close look into delivery to offices.
“We do catering but not to individual desks,” he says, adding that there is demand for such a service. “Our main campus is a million square feet. We’re examining various cost models now. We’re looking at whether we’d deliver to a certain place each day or do it on demand.”
Elsewhere, Thompson Hospitality is doing desktop delivery to corporate clients in a joint venture with Compass Group’s Eurest Dining Services. “We can have it delivered or ready for pick up at a specific locations,” says Bonita Thompson-Byas. “It’s cashless; the person ordering pays online.”
At Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris, Glover & Popeo, a large Boston law firm, the building’s foodservice contractor, Restaurant Associates, will bring food orders up to the floor where the firm’s foodservice manager places them on carts, adds beverages and does the actual delivery, says RA’s Laura Emslie. “They’ll call and say what they need, like 30 salads and 70 sandwiches, and [we] do the beverages, chips, cookies, etc.”
On Long Island, N.Y., Whitsons Culinary Group recently responded to the issue of “time crunches,” says Vice President of Operations Kelly Friend, by instituting “café to desk” delivery at two corporate accounts.
“We’ve been doing it about two months and are just beginning to experiment,” she says. “We started with a cafeteria in a basement that was not always convenient for people, and began delivering to about a dozen offices. People’s time is precious. On a given day we’ll do anywhere from 30 to 60 breakfasts and lunches. They can order online or pay through the catering department, which does the cart delivery.”
Friend sees potential in the program. “Seventy percent of the business is revenue that might have escaped. It’s excess, not anticipated revenue,” she says. “We’re hoping at one of the sites to add kiosks for ordering on each floor. That could bring up the volume, and they could pay with a credit card.”
At Lackmann Culinary Services, Area Coordinator and Regional Chef Gerard Marquetty saw the potential of incremental income with a “Deskside Delivery” program at St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Raymond James Financial Services. (See sidebar.) He estimates the four-month-old program is adding around $100 a day.
On some college and university campuses where food courts and cafeterias offer a diverse range of options, many with extended hours of service, delivery to individual dormitory rooms has been less of an issue. Others point to the question of access to dormitories and security as sticking points.
“We’ve never had a request,” says Jennifer Hauf, dining director at Dakota State University, Madison, S.D., “but it’s not out of the question.”
At Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 26 locations are open for students to eat on campus. A program called Cougar Care Packages will deliver cakes, ice cream, candy, cheeses and other items for special occasions such as birthdays or “cheer up” with ordering online, says Dining Services’ executive secretary, Gail Cotton.
Similarly, the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Canada, offers a ‘Cuz You Care’ package that parents can purchase and have delivered to a dormitory. “We have dining facilities in each of our residence halls,” says Hospitality Services’ marketing director, Janet Smith, “so we make meals really convenient.”
Others, such as Northwest Missouri State University, allow meal plan dollars to be used for delivery from local pizza chains. And at Duke University, a 17-year-old program called “Merchants on Points” lets local restaurants make late night deliveries paid for from meal plan points.
Contemplating a Program
One New England campus debates the merits of offering a delivery service.
Delivery of meals to dormitory rooms may not be on everyone’s radar at the moment, but it’s on a back burner, waiting to simmer into reality, on at least one Northeast campus.
At Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., Jamie Cornacchia, who is general manager of Campus Dining Services, has been looking at the idea for some time, weighing the pros and cons, and seeking to explore the numerous logistical facets of establishing a program.
“Currently we do not have delivery to dorms,” he says, “but we will be putting together a program for 2008.”
The college recently renovated a number of dining facilities, and opened a 100-seat food court in a new athletic center. “We added a new retail location in the Library Cyber Cafe, Einstein’s Bagels, and it was the most popular outlet last semester with 75,700 transactions,” he says.
Late-night option? Students had requested delivery in the library, saying they were often too busy to leave study group rooms to go to the various outlets on campus. One late night dining service option, open until 2 a.m., is always “jammed,” Cornacchia says.
“We also see a lot of pizza delivered here late at night,” he adds. “So we’re looking at dorm deliveries as a revenue stream. But sometimes, at 2 a.m., you wonder, who wants that business? Give it to the pizza guy.”
Cornacchia says students have asked for dorm room delivery and he’d like to make that happen, but “there are a lot of issues.”
Labor costs are “very high,” he points out. “And there are questions, such as, how do you guarantee payment, what would the delivery hours be, how would we keep the food hot and how many people would we need to do the delivery? You’d need a vehicle too, like a covered golf cart that could hold a hot box.”
Safety first: “We have the technology,” he says, referring to the online ordering aspects of a program. But there are food handling/safety questions that nag him. “What if the student fell asleep before eating the food and ate it quite a while later when he woke up, and he got sick? Who’s responsible? It really is a complex issue.”
Cornacchia explains he’d like to do a menu for dorm room delivery based on the foods now being ordered late at night—sub sandwiches, pre-made salads, drinks, smoothies, etc.
“I’ve heard of a college down south,” he adds, “that extended their board program to 24 hours and is doing a tremendous breakfast business from 1 to 3 a.m.”
Cornacchia adds that he is thinking of taking his team on a retreat to explore the many issues involved in setting up a delivery program. “We need to figure out what kind of volume it could generate.”
Deliveries Drive Business
Contractor program, called Deskside Delivery, is adding incremental business at financial services firm.
There’s always a percentage of customers at any corporate facility who are too busy to leave their desks for lunch. Determined to capture those potential sales, one foodservice director took her “love of curbside dining” and came up with a way to make it work as “deskside delivery.” Kim Brown, director of dining services for Lackmann Culinary Services’ Raymond James account in St. Petersburg, Fla., explains how she did it.
“Lackmann is very, very service oriented. Before I came to this account, the client wanted to do deli delivery to the traders but it didn’t materialize. When I took over, I wanted to exceed their expectations and thought, why not deliver to everyone? I knew that I would not feel special if I were sitting at my desk and the department next door was getting lunch delivered, but I couldn’t have it delivered to me.
I just did the simplest thing. I thought about the people who eat at their desks and are too busy to leave their offices to come to the cafes, and about how much I love curbside dining. I saw the delivery people coming in from businesses across the street and thought, ‘they make it easy [for people who work here] so why not us?’
One of our cafes was very busy and I wanted to take the pressure off of them. It worked. We launched the program and made the food in the slower café. The customers can order by phone, fax or online. That café does about $1,700 a day. The other one does double that, plus catering revenues.
The [delivery] menu is diverse. It’s a different menu from the one in the cafes, but the items available there can be ordered too. We do salads and deli sandwiches, and we have a popcorn chicken express that comes with a choice of Mandarin orange or Asian plum sauces in little Chinese takeout containers. There’s also a sampler with potato skins, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings and chips that’s the most popular. Other items include a steak pizzaiola hoagie with fries, a chicken fajita wrap, salads and sandwiches.
We did a lot of marketing. We gave out free coffee and samples and we handed out fliers at the door and in the parking lot. Also, we put posters up in the cafes. We have four office towers and a bank here and around 3,000 people on any given day. A special program at Raymond James called ‘Breakfast With The Boss’ helped the promotion by giving away five free Desktop Dining coupons a month Our sales since we started this are up between 8% and 10%.
Delivery is easy. We use one little electric scooter with a trailer attached. All the buildings connect through an inside bridge and the scooter goes around inside as well as outside and pulls right up to their desks. Some folks tell me they order just so they can see the scooter pull right up to their desk.”