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How DoorDash Helps Restaurant Operators Survive and Thrive During the Pandemic

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DoorDash helps restaurant clients adapt to the new reality of operating without table service. (iStock/Maksym Belchenko)
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The true test of a business partner comes when the going gets rough: Do they truly have your back, or were they just there for the good times when customers were flowing through your doors?

Many businesses had to confront that dire question in 2020. But for two restaurant companies, fortunately, the pandemic proved they each had a solid partner when it came to food delivery.

“Our business model converted to an off-premises-only strategy overnight,” recalls Nicole Milnthorpe, Smokey Bones chief financial officer. “Smokey Bones now had to figure out how to flip its strategy and optimize its business for pickup and delivery sales.”

That’s a scary place to find yourself, but Smokey Bones’ food delivery partner, DoorDash, was ready to help the 61-location casual-dining chain adapt to the strange new reality of operating without table service.

As an established DoorDash partner, Smokey Bones already knew the best practices for delivery by the time the pandemic hit. The DoorDash team advised on everything from streamlining takeout menus and testing marketing strategies, to analyzing which items were most popular in each of Smokey Bones’ markets across 16 states.

“Knowing how to customize to each market has been a key driver of our success with DoorDash,” Milnthorpe says. “its data-driven approach allowed us to make some strong financial decisions very quickly.”

Those decisions paid off. With the DoorDash platform, Aventura, Fla.-based Smokey Bones more than doubled its off-premises sales year over year. This allowed it to not only keep the majority of restaurants operating in the first few months of COVID-19, but eventually to reopen all locations, and even add a new restaurant.

“We’ve set ourselves up in a position to successfully navigate the pandemic, and DoorDash was key to that strategy,” Milnthorpe reports. “[DoorDash] has been a tremendous partner, and I know we’ll continue to grow and evolve together.”

Egg-cellent Results for Yolk

Smokey Bones’ experience was not unique. Yolk, a Chicago-based breakfast concept with 16 dine-in locations in four states, saw business take a hit when COVID-19 travel restrictions took hold. “We had customers come from the suburbs all the time to dine with us, and now suddenly they’re not coming anymore,” recalls Gianluca Pesce, director of marketing and communications at Yolk.

Yolk turned to delivery to stay ahead of customer trends. “All restaurants are looking at a 20% decrease in in-house sales because consumers want their food delivered,” Pesce notes. “Adapting to the shift and recouping that 20% is the main challenge for restaurants everywhere right now.”

“[DoorDash’s] strategic partner manager really knows our brand — I even joke that he works for Yolk.”

Yolk chose DoorDash as its third-party delivery platform when it became clear it was not like some of its competitors. “Other platforms were knocking on our door, but they didn’t want to create a relationship,” Pesce explains. “They just wanted a high percentage.”

DoorDash, on the other hand, “wants to work with us and help resolve any issues,” he continues. “[DoorDash’s] strategic partner manager really knows our brand — I even joke that he works for Yolk.”

Yolk has more than recouped the 20% loss that Pesce referenced. Since joining DoorDash and opening two new delivery-only kitchens, Yolk has seen year-over-year growth of 486%. The expanded partnership includes DoorDash for Work and DashPass, which itself drove a 20% increase in sales. Yolk also uses DoorDash marketing features such as Try Me Free and Zero Dollar Delivery.

“We’ve seen the delivery and takeout business triple,” Pesce says. “While that may go down as things normalize, I’m hoping to retain some of that business. I think ordering from home will be a new normal.”

To learn more about working with DoorDash and its offer of 0% commissions for 30 days until the end of year, visit here.

‘A Lifeline to Restaurants’

Foodservice researcher and consultant Technomic surveyed restaurant operators to understand the role DoorDash and its third-party delivery platform have played during the COVID-19 crisis. Operators told them that DoorDash enabled them to grow revenues, reach new customers and stay in business during COVID-19. 

Among Technomic’s findings:
• 75% of operators agreed that DoorDash enabled them to reach new customers they otherwise might not have been able to reach. 
• 67% said DoorDash was crucial to their business during COVID-19. 
• 65% said they were able to increase profits during COVID-19 because of DoorDash. 

Technomic concluded that DoorDash has been “a lifeline to restaurants during [the] COVID-19 crisis.” Benefits to operators have included “increased revenues and customer access, COVID-19 relief programs, customer service and an easy-to-use platform.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

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