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Is curbside carryout just an add-on service to pamper lazy customers, or is it something patrons really want?
David Wallace knows it's at least the latter, and he doesn't care if it meets the needs of the former. Curbside carryout is boosting business by 3 percent to 5 percent annually at Boston's The Gourmet Pizza units.
"Focusing on service in this business is more important than ever," said Wallace, a new-store training manager for the 235-unit casual dining pizza chain. There are 200 units in Canada, where the chain is based, and 35 in the United States, where it will open 25 additional units this year. "People aren't just requiring service in the restaurant, they want it when they pull up as well. So we give it to them."
The bottom line is the service is convenient and the investment to provide it is minimal compared to the return. Like many companies doing curbside, Boston's has done little to promote the service other than through word of mouth, modest signage in front of its restaurants, placing "curbside pickup" signs near a few spots close to the front door and having staffers mention it each time the phone rings.
A simple process
Hosts take orders over the phone and serve as food couriers from kitchen to car. When curbside orders come in, they ask for the make and model of the car and tell customers to call back from a cell phone when they arrive. Some units have movement detectors in the lot that notify the front desk a car is waiting. (Curbside features at most Boston's were added after they were built, but Wallace said the chain's construction team has made it a priority to include those attributes in future sites.) When the food is ready, the staff takes it to the car for payment; credit card transactions are handled inside the restaurant.
Wallace said the kitchen staff treats a curbside order like any other; it's not bumped to the front of the line, and the full menu — except alcoholic beverages — is available. The only difference is an added emphasis on accuracy. "With curbside, you only get one shot to make sure the meal is perfect. All the accompaniments must be in one spot at one time when someone picks it up."
Tipping of carryout staff is inconsistent, he said, since customers don't always know what amount is fair for taking the food to the door.
While curbside service is commonly busy at dinner, Wallace said every store in every market has unique peaks. In Green Bay, curbside traffic is heavy on Friday and Saturday nights, but in Tempe, Ariz., lunch business is strongest. Curbside customers, he added, also "tend
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Curbside sales have not cannibalized dining room or delivery sales because Wallace believes all three customers have unique desires that don't lead them to trade one experience for the other. With its accommodations for large groups and multiple large-screen TVs, a trip to Boston's is often a chance to watch a big game with friends. Delivery customers just want to enjoy good food at home.
"I strongly believe that people who are going to come to a restaurant have that in mind ahead of time," he said. "People who want to do takeout will do takeout. I don't think curbside takes away from someone who's coming in to watch the game."
Topics: Operations Management
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