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Delivery has emerged as a real game changer for the restaurant industry, building sales, satisfying convenience-oriented customers and paving the way for new products, services and technologies. For operators, however, job one must always be protecting the brand, day in and day out—a challenge that grows the instant food leaves the premises.

There’s no question that food delivery has become a huge “disrupter” in the business, said Jeff Tenner, executive chef of Tatte Bakery & Cafe, in Boston, changing every aspect of restaurant operations. He points to Good Uncle, in Syracuse, N.Y., as an example of where delivery might ultimately be headed: There’s no brick-and-mortar, just a curated menu of iconic recipes licensed from other restaurants, available for delivery only in high-density areas.

Tenner, who has worked with a number of other companies that do delivery, including Bertucci’s, explained that every brand must examine how best to protect its reputation when undertaking delivery—from packaging decisions to delivery radius to what items to include on the to-go menu.

It’s not a business you enter into lightly,” said Gabriel Caliende, vice president of research and development for Lazy Dog, which has 22 full-service casual restaurants in California, Texas and Nevada.

According to Caliende, packaging is the single most important consideration; his team spent two years testing a variety of different options, ranging from sturdy paper and corrugated cardboard for items such as fish and chips and fried food, to clear-lidded plastic with lots of surface area to show off the fresh ingredients in salads. Hot items get a thicker grade of plastic that can withstand holding and subsequent microwaving without degrading quality. Lazy Dog is also making a big push into what it calls “family-style dining”: delivery for office lunches, parties and other forms of off-premise catering, which necessitates different packaging solutions.

Even the storage of packaging was an issue, particularly because Lazy Dog’s exhibition kitchens must look as uncluttered and appealing as possible. Containers are stored nearby, upside down, in easy-to-clean areas for food-safety reasons.

All containers are logoed, including beverage cups. “We want our customers, and prospective customers, to see that Lazy Dog sitting on someone’s desk or stored in a refrigerator,” said Caliende. And while most of the 100-item menu is available for delivery, some items have been engineered for better quality on the road, in particular by packing sauces and dressings in separate containers. “We also provide about double the volume of sauce or dressing,” said Caliende. “In the restaurant, you can always ask for more, but once that item leaves the building, that option doesn’t exist.”

Like many brands that have gotten into delivery, Lazy Dog uses third-party services, including national companies such as Grubhub, as well as local operations, depending on the market. As with all its vendors, Lazy Dog conducts rigorous third-party audits and makes sure that its delivery partners are adhering to best practices such as the proper use of top-quality hot bags and other insulated food carriers. Caliende also coaches its managers and expeditors on making sure delivery orders are packed in the right-temperature bags, not only for food safety reasons but also for quality.

Rob Corliss is founder of the culinary consulting company All Things Epicurean (ATE), in Nixa, Mo., and executive chef of the fast-casual Sheridan’s Unforked, which handles its own delivery for catering from its two locations in the Kansas City area. “Offer menu items that maintain the same high integrity as when served on-site in the restaurant,” Corliss said. “Not every menu item translates to the same quality end result when catered. If that translation is lost, either don’t put it on the catering menu or rethink the delivery method.”

For example, Sheridan’s popular made-to-order tacos are deconstructed as a “build-your-own” format for off-premise catering delivery. Premade, said Corliss, the tacos “don’t travel well, hold up or look the way we want them to, so the solution is to serve individual buffet pans of the signature taco components and let catering guests build their own.”

“Offsite delivery requires additional standards for handling, time and temperature controls,” Corliss said. “Test every catered menu item for hot/cold holding times with your catering equipment and on actual ‘mock/test’ deliveries before launching a program. Use a dedicated (branded) delivery van/vehicle that is equipped to safely transport catered food. Not only do proper holding temperatures need to be maintained, proper storage will ensure the food looks great upon delivery.”

And whether the actual delivery is handled in-house or by a trusted partner, the importance of using sturdy, reliable, high-quality insulated carriers can’t be overstated. Keeping food at the proper temperature for the transit time required—hot food hot, and cold food cold—is essential for both food safety and brand protection.

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