Annual sales in the restaurant industry may have reached $783 billion in 2017, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is flocking to their local eateries. In fact, nearly 20% of 2016 survey respondents said that they use a food delivery service at least once a week, and millennials spend 44% of their food dollars eating out — much of which gets eaten up by services like GrubHub and Seamless or quick service restaurants. To compete in a market that’s based more on convenience with every passing year, Chicago dining establishments and food-related startups are finding they have to be a bit more creative than ever before.
When customers can’t find their favorite food spot on their delivery app of choice, they may end up spending their money elsewhere. Although delivery made up only 3% of all restaurant transactions this past year, customers ate in sit-down restaurants just 37% of the time. In contrast, 39% of customers opted for carryout, and 21% of all restaurant transactions were made at the drive-thru. In response, many area restaurant owners have had to take a crash course in the latest technology. On top of that, some have had to redesign their establishments — from food prep lines to expanded waiting areas — to account for the increasing demand for takeout. The average home kitchen in the U.S has around 25 feet of counter space, but some businesses have had to design new, separate kitchens just for mobile orders.
In Chicago, Duck Duck Goat added a quick carryout option, Duck Duck Ta Go, just four months after they opened their initial establishment. The “Ta Go” portion has its own small kitchen and offers dishes that aren’t available on the regular menu. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a restaurant group with dozens of outlets to its name, recently opened a takeout- and delivery-only spot, Seaside’s, in Lincoln Park. Now that takeout is moving away from the bar area and into the main lobby of many locations (or even outside), restaurant layouts are being adjusted accordingly. Heat lamps and to-go shelving is in; cash register space is out.
But some restaurants are steadfast in their belief that delivery isn’t for them. And some, like Smoque BBQ in Irving Park, have been forced to give in due to the increasing customer demand to provide more takeout options. Around 40% of their transactions were already attributed to takeout orders, but they’ve begrudgingly started offering delivery now through Caviar, another food delivery service.
“We were getting a lot of pressure from customers,” co-owner Barry Sorkin told the Chicago Tribune. “This is how people get food now, whether we like it or not … We were still uncomfortable, but [Caviar takes delivery] seriously, and there’s a degree of professionalism.”
The fact that Caviar places limits on their delivery zones and uses thermal bags to keep food hot doesn’t hurt, either.
Still, some consumers may not want to deal with food delivery services yet are too tired to cook a big meal. Tovala, a Chicago-based startup, promises a solution in the form of a tech-friendly oven and meal preparation subscription service, combined. The oven steams, broils, and bakes food (either the meals obtained through the company’s weekly subscription service or the consumer’s own dishes) until it’s fully cooked and ready to enjoy. The smart oven costs $399 and the three-meal subscription service is $36 a week — but if you crunch the numbers, you might find it’s a bargain, depending on how much you normally spend on food in a given week.
Regardless of whether the smart oven catches on, it’s likely that consumers (especially younger ones) are going to continue to seek out convenient and delicious ways to eat. In other words, restaurants will need to stay on their toes and keep adapting if they want to stick around.