Technology powers new food delivery options

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2013 - 5:08 PM

Restaurants are signing on for services that in some cases can predict arrival time to the minute.

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Sean Dolan, a delivery driver for Bite Squad, checked his phone while leaving the Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in downtown Minneapolis with a delivery order earlier this month. Bite Squad customers can track the driver on a map from the restaurant to their home as well as see a picture of their driver’s face.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com ,

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Pizza wasn’t cutting it anymore. Brandon Pryatel wanted more options for delivery than Domino’s or Papa John’s at the end of a long workday.

Now, thanks to new delivery services and advancing technology, Pryatel and others can choose from nearly 100 Twin Cities restaurants of wide-ranging ethnic cuisine, from the Ginger Hop, the Birchwood Cafe, Brit’s Pub, Tiger Sushi, the Lotus or Gandhi Mahal.

“It’s nice being able to order things we actually want instead of just what’s available,” said the Minneapolis resident.

A nationwide boom in delivery services is allowing time-starved consumers to get a wider variety of restaurant food delivered quicker and fresher. Just in the past 18 months, Bite Squad, Doorstep Delivery and GrubHub have started service in the Twin Cities.

Customer demand for a variety of convenient, quality food delivered is feeding the trend, said Dustin Hansen of Restaurant Connection, which started in the Twin Cities in 2009. “Every major city in the country now has a delivery service,” he said.

Having high-quality food delivered isn’t a new idea, but new software and tighter organization have dramatically improved it, said Dan McElroy, president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association. “It’s a game changer,” he said.

Technology is engaging the customer and making delivery interactive, said Kian Salehi, owner of Minneapolis-based Bite Squad. “From the time a customer places the order,” he said, “they can follow it on a tracking system from the driver to house, and interact with the driver by getting a text when the delivery is one-tenth of a mile from their house.”

Customer service is ramping up too. Some sites picture nearly every menu item on their websites. Pulldown menus and boxes let customers choose levels of spiciness, flavors and doneness. When customers have questions, they can initiate a live online chat.

The customer is updated on the order’s progress on the website or via e-mails and texts from the delivery service, which calculates prep and delivery time in tandem with the restaurant. Within seconds, a precise arrival time is determined — 7:11 p.m., for example, not “sometime between 7 and 7:30.”

Complex calculations

Bite Squad uses an algorithm that measures cooking time, number of orders, available drivers and traffic flow. If the delivery will be delayed five minutes or longer, the customer gets a phone call and an apology, but Salehi said more than 90 percent of deliveries are on time with no need for a phone call.

To distinguish itself from other delivery services, Bite Squad also offers branded Priuses, uniformed delivery drivers, and Styrofoam-free containers. Its customers can now track the driver on a map from the restaurant to their home, along with a picture of the driver’s face and the number of minutes to delivery.

GrubHub customers can place their orders by smartphone app, website or good old land line. Restaurant Connection offers fewer restaurant choices (about 40 in the Twin Cities), and customers receive text message updates on the status of their orders. Customers who prefer a more traditional interaction can still obtain a printed menu booklet and call in their order.

Food prices are usually identical to the restaurants’ menu prices. Delivery prices vary from $4 to $8, depending on the distance from the restaurant to the home or business.

Salehi said some people don’t like the delivery fee, but it evens out when they factor in gas and parking, especially at downtown and Uptown restaurants. Payment, including tip, is usually done online via credit card or PayPal.

Protecting the name

When Parasole restaurants, including Chino Latino and Mozza Mia, hired its first delivery service five months ago, vice president Kip Clayton said, “It’s like giving your baby to someone else and hoping for the best.”

Parasole’s experiment has far exceeded expectations to date.

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  • Sean Dolan, a driver for Bite Squad, unloaded an order food of Mexican food from Pancho Villa for delivery to a Minneapolis office building.

  • Dolan arranged the trays of food from Pancho Villa at the Minneapolis office. Bite Squad is among at least four delivery services to spring up in the Twin Cities in the past 18 months.

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