By Beth N. Gray
Fast food connoisseurs have amped up their demands in recent years, giving birth to third-party restaurant delivery services. And those nationwide businesses are reaching into Hernando County.
Representing the fledgling-but-bursting industry here are Bite Squad and DoorDash. Local restaurateurs give them glowing to growling marks.
But first, the whys and hows of to-your-door service.
"It's been a fantastic area," Bite Squad spokeswoman Liz Sniegocki said of the company's earlier foray into Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, "so we've expanded out."
Delivery gives diners the option of a restaurant meal at home, and it adds customers to an eatery's serving base, according to Tectonic, a business technology consulting firm out of Denver.
"Typically, it brings new customers or ones who decided to stay home," Sniegocki said. "It's rainy; they'll order delivery."
"It provides (restaurants) with incremental sales," she added. "Even busy times in a restaurant, we extend their production without adding to their overhead costs, like hiring more waitresses."
Off-premise sales account for 44 percent of restaurant business, and 25 percent are delivery orders, Tectonic stated. Sixty percent of restaurants said their overall sales increased incrementally with out-sourced delivery. And one in four customers said they spend more on delivery orders than when they dine in.
At Gator's Dockside in Spring Hill, one of about 20 local restaurants signed on with Bite Squad, manager Ryan Hooker said the service is popular with "people who get home from work for dinner and don't feel like going out." Such orders number four or five per day.
"A lot of our regular customer base does use them; some are new," Hooker said. "We have a good partnership with Bite Squad."
As has been Gator's experience over the past four months, Bite Squad driver Daniel Torna drove up to the restaurant recently at the expected time, carrying an insulated bag that would keep the order hot.
Delivery charges, starting at $2.99, are based on mileage and meal value, Torna said, adding, "for the most part, people are pretty good tippers."
Torna, 26, is lead driver for a team of about 20 serving Spring Hill, Brooksville, Hudson and Port Richey. Most drivers are work part-time. Drivers choose Bite Squad, he said, because they become company employees with appropriate personal tax deductions, W-2 forms and benefits such as health insurance. Most other service drivers are contract employees, he said.
DoorDash delivers for Spring Hill's Chick-fil-A, part of a corporate-wide contract effective this month, said local franchisee John Mitten. The "dashers" are picking up eight to 10 orders daily.
"It's brand new here, and we haven't pushed it a lot," Mitten said. "As people get educated, we'll expect more."
"(Delivery) is a benefit to those who can't come out," he said, adding that those customers are a mix of regulars and newcomers.
DoorDash delivery fees range from 99 cents to $7.99, based on mileage, plus a service fee of 7 percent to 15 percent based on the order's value.
A sampling of other local restaurants drew various remarks from employees who answered the phone, with one saying Bite Squad was their most popular, another saying her firm wasn't fond of working with DoorDash and others saying they weren't working with any delivery companies, in spite of what their corporate websites listed.
Owner Nathan Beverly said The Cove in Hernando Beach used Bite Squad for a short period, but is no longer. The fee was too high, he said, adding, "We do mainly two orders a week to go out."
Bite Squad and DoorDash provide easy-order access via their corporate websites and their own downloadable apps.
Contact Beth Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.