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“People preferred to stay outside the restaurant and, preferably, in their cars,” said Jerrod Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises who spoke with Burge Diemer of Habit Burger at Restaurants Rise..

Pandemic spurred curbside delivery innovations

Executives from Habit Burger Grill and Lettuce Entertain You share their learnings

The coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants across all segments to innovate, and one of those changes was a move to curbside delivery.

Burge Diemer, vice president of marketing at Irvine, Calif.-based Habit Burger Grill, and Jerrod Melman, executive partner with Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, shared insights on “How to Make Curbside Appealing” during a Restaurants Rise webinar Wednesday.

“It helped all of us to accelerate innovation,” Diemer said. “Programs like this would have taken several months to deploy, and I think we all became better at it.”

While most brands had been considering ways to enhance customer convenience, the COVID-19 pandemic forced those changes.

“We had been pursuing delivery and carry-out long before the pandemic hit,” Melman said, “but for us the immediate uncertainty was: What was going to happen? Would we be shut down completely? Was delivery going to be allowed? And for us, moving quickly to a delivery-only model provided a bit of hope.”

Lettuce Entertain You’s restaurants tried family meals and three-day-a-week meal delivery and pickup in the early days of pandemic restrictions, Melman said.

And those early challenges, Melman said, produced other hurdles.

“A challenge that we didn’t see coming right away, but quickly became apparent, was to-go supplies were going to become scarce,” he said, and finding replacements for supplies that met specifications had to be “done on the fly.”

How food got to the customer also changed.

The inclination early on was to have people come into the restaurant, but Melman said team members and customers preferred an experience where they didn’t have to go into the location.

“People preferred to stay outside the restaurant and, preferably, in their cars,” Melman said.

For Lettuce Entertain You, with many locations in downtown Chicago, curbside delivery occupied what formerly had been valet-parking loading zones, Melman said.

The pandemic, of course, reduced downtown Chicago traffic, Melman said, so the congestion issues were eased. The restaurants also went with a low-tech solution for identifying vehicles, sending out the restaurant’s phone number and having customers call with the make and model of their automobile, he said.

Diemer said Habit Burger started its curbside delivery with orange traffic cones and laminated signs for the the parking lots.

“We are working with our landlords to get permission and approval to get dedicated parking spots,” she said. “Hopefully that will improve the visibility of parking and also help our team members get to the cars more easily.”

Habit Burger found contactless delivery became the standard, Diemer said, and staff would put orders on a tray for the customers. The zero-contact experience quickly proved less than ideal, as drink cups would slide back and forth on the trays, Diemer said.

“We had to go and source trays with cup holders to better secure them on the trays,” Diemer. “You never anticipate those challenges.”

Because open drink-refill stations were no longer being used because of safety concerns, that area was converted to delivery pickups, Diemer said.

Diemer said the Habit Burger benefitted from already having online ordering and a mobile app, which were launched 18 months ago, and expanded third-party delivery partnerships.

But the brand tapped its in-house development team to produce technological tools to help in curbside delivery.

“From the beginning, we took a fail-fast approach,” Diemer said. “We want to get something out there quickly based on guest and consumer feedback rather than trying to come up with a perfect solution.”

 “It takes a village to make this happen,” Diemer said, who added that Habit Burger was acquired by Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc. amid the pandemic as well. That has increased collaboration with Yum’s Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut brands, she said.

This is part of special coverage of the Restaurants Rise digital summit taking place online Aug. 11-13 and Aug. 18-20, powered by Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality. Register for live sessions or on-demand replays at

Title sponsors for Restaurants Rise include Campbell’s Foodservice, GrubHub, Idaho Potato, ShiftPixy, Wisely and Impossible.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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