IHOP would rather get it right than be first when it comes to delivery, brand President Darren Rebelez told Nation’s Restaurant News.
“We wanted to make sure we had the fundamentals right before we got into accelerating them,” he said of the restaurant’s plans to launch an outbound service in the near future.
Delivery has been fast catching on across the restaurant industry, from quick service to casual dining, as chains contend with weak sales and ebbing traffic.
While a specific launch date for IHOP’s delivery service hasn’t yet been announced, an IHOP app is slated to debut before the end of the year to facilitate third-party off-site ordering.
IHOP is still testing delivery with third-party partners Amazon.com Inc. and DoorDash, and plans to add GrubHub in the first quarter of 2018.
To ensure that the wider launch of delivery runs smoothly, IHOP formed a franchisee task force to weigh in on the design of the container and in-restaurant procedures for processing and dispatching delivery orders.
When the service begins, a delivery point person will be present in participating IHOP restaurants to oversee the process. Rebelez estimated that about 45 percent of U.S. locations would participate in the rollout.
Breakfast concepts have struggled in the past to adopt delivery because the food has “never traveled well,” Rebelez said.
So, the DineEquity Inc. subsidiary spent about a year developing a unique takeout container that sidesteps this particular roadblock and to “protect the pancakes at all costs.”
The packaging consists of a clear lid branded with the IHOP logo and a vessel made of thick plastic for insulation. The lid is comprised of two detachable sides that create a suspended container within a container.
This sub-chamber includes a depression that fits standard-sized IHOP pancakes and holds them above any other food items, such as eggs or breakfast meats, stored below.
The lid has vents to keep the pancakes from getting soggy, but it also traps heat between the items stored on the top and bottom.
The containers were developed by a third-party manufacturer and will be available to franchisees at what Rebelez described as a negligible cost.
While this particular design is exclusive to IHOP, Denny’s came up with a similar system upon initiating delivery in May.
Rebelez said he isn’t bothered by being beaten to the punch by a breakfast rival, adding that IHOP stuck to its original timeline even after Denny’s rolled out delivery.
“We wanted to make sure we got this right because once you start pulling the to-go lever and you start doing business, you’re going to upset a bunch of people and you’re going to go backwards,” he said.
Adding new tech in-house
As for on-premises dining, Rebelez and his team are focused on how technology can “reduce the friction from the guest experience.” He pointed out that not all technological advancements would necessarily “streamline” restaurant operations.
“There are some concepts — primarily QSR and fast casual — that are introducing kiosks for the guest to order from. We’re not playing with that,” said Rebelez.
The goal of implementing technological advances into the IHOP infrastructure, he said, is to simplify dining rather than throw technology in the customer’s face “just because it looks cool or the guy across the street did it.”
“When we get our guest feedback, one of the things they really love about IHOP is that experience and that relationship that they have with the server,” said Rebelez. “They engage the servers in their evening and in their morning in a different way than just the transaction.
“The last thing we want to do is take that away.”
Rebelez said IHOP is also considering adding tablets, allowing servers to send orders directly to the kitchen without traveling to a point-of-sale station to enter them.
IHOP may also add the ability for guests to check in to a waitlist remotely from the app during busy dayparts, and the restaurant is examining pay-at-the-table options that would allow patrons to “leave when they want to leave.”
IHOP currently has about 1,700 global locations, the majority being in the U.S. Parent DineEquity is based in Glendale, Calif.
Contact Dan Orlando at [email protected]
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