The Takeaway

Why streamlining your curbside service is the only way to go.

Illustration of a modern Italian fast food restaurant with parking lot and cars.
Managing cars picking up their to-go orders is no game. / vectorpocket ©

By now, you’ve experienced the hiccups of curbside—whether running the drill at your own restaurant or as a customer at someone else’s. You’ve arrived, but is your order ready? Do you get a text alert? Are you supposed to call? Do you don a mask and venture inside? 

In just nine months, curbside and takeout have become part and parcel of the dining experience and, as always, guests’ expectations of seamlessness have risen to meet our challenge. Many customers don’t want to call to announce their arrival (and restaurant phone lines aren’t typically set up to handle that, anyway), but they certainly expect their food to be ready and delivered to the car—stat! After all, they do it at Chick-fil-A, don’t they?

Illustration of yellow car with geotag over it.

The answer, many operators have found, is geofencing. These location-based services allow you to track guests via GPS as they near your restaurant. They offer real-time data, including estimated arrival time, so orders can be fired and packaged accordingly, then delivered à la minute. 

The benefit of this type of technology is fluidity. “You’ve got to follow through with the experience for the guest. It’s not just the food talking,” says Nick Liberato, whose expertise as a restaurant consultant is detailed in the Netflix series Restaurants on the Edge. Liberato and his business partner Mike Dalewitz recently rolled out cueLess, an app that accesses customer location data and integrates it with POS systems to reduce wait times. It will be piloted in New Jersey, and then will be available for mass distribution.

“[Geofencing] is the North Star of where everyone wants to be,” says Anthony Valletta, COO of Birdcall. The Denver-based quick-serve restaurant is currently building its own location-based app, but in the meantime its goal is “ease of use out of the gates,” Valletta says. That means communicating with guests via automatic texts: Immediately after placing an online order, guests receive a text saying, “Thanks for your order; it will be ready in X minutes.” Upon arrival, customers pull in to the parking lot and reply to the text with their space number. The order is then whisked out to the car and the customer is off and running. Valletta says Birdcall’s goal is to have people in and out in three to four minutes. If the kitchen is backed up, there’s a plan: Give the guest a complimentary bottle of water while they wait, or add samples of dishes to their order. 

Valletta concedes that tech like geofencing or even text alerts aren’t for everyone. “For mom and pops, it might be hard to get there,” he says. What everyone can do, however, is treat their parking lot like their dining room. Birdcall has added a curbside concierge at each of its three locations. That employee greets each car, greases the wheels if the kitchen is backed up, and most importantly, adds an unexpected level of hospitality.  

Whatever your tactics, making curbside as simple and as easy as possible pays off big: Short wait times and fresh food build happy, loyal customers. Fine-tuning the takeaway experience also means you’ll save on third-party delivery fees.

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