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Apparently the Secret to Better Take-Out Service Is... Shelves?

Yeah, like, the things you put stuff on.
people ordering takeout from cafe
Photo: Getty Images/gpointstudio

Kent Taylor, the CEO of Texas Roadhouse, is a huge fan of third-party delivery apps like Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Postmates—at least, when it comes to other restaurants. “We encourage all our competitors to do as much delivery as they can, so they can deliver lukewarm food to the people who order it,” he told CNN Business last year.

Yeah, Taylor believes in the integrity of his fresh-from-the-fryer Rattlesnake Bites and equally deep-fried Cactus Blossoms, but he could also be missing out on a lot of potential business from at-home customers. Texas Roadhouse could keep generating those “This restaurant is not taking online orders” messages on Grubhub—or it could start taking estimates for several hundred sets of shelves.


According to Fast Company, all of those late-night Postmates orders and hungover Grubhub deliveries add up to a $13-billion-dollar industry, one that is projected to become a $365 billion business within the next decade. Restaurants that want their own menus to become options on even one of those apps are currently trying to figure out how to make that work. And, in some cases, all that requires is trading a few tables and chairs for a shelving unit or two.

The problem that a lot of restaurants—from global chains to local faves—currently have is that neither their kitchens nor their lobbies are designed to accommodate couriers who are waiting beside customers, or they don’t have the space to stack more than a couple of to-go orders at a time. The result can be exactly what Taylor is afraid of: tepid deliveries and disappointed customers, who may opt out of both eating in and ordering takeout in the future.

But these joints are trying to adapt to an increase in delivery app-orders on the fly—and one of the simplest solutions is proving to be one of the most useful. Chipotle tested a set of wooden shelves in one New York location, which meant that take-out customers and couriers could just walk in, grab their food, and walk out. Everyone loved not having to wait in line, and it shaved valuable minutes from its delivery times. As a result, Fast Company explains, within six months of that test, some 1,000 of Chipotle’s US locations were given their own set of wooden shelves.

Firehouse Subs has also tried to make itself more takeout friendly, after realizing that 60 percent of its orders are now for either pick-up or delivery. "The impact from delivery is the greatest shift we've seen yet," Firehouse CEO Don Fox told Bloomberg. "We're investing in where the business is going, which is off site.” That investment came in the form of wire shelving, placed in front of the counters at all 1,102 of its restaurants. (The Florida-based company seems to realize that people would rather order a giant sandwich to eat in their own kitchens: The size of its future locations will shrink from around 2,000 square feet to as little as 1,400 square feet.)

And for restaurants that don’t want to place a massive order from The Container Store, Eatsa is licensing its own shelving technology to others. The fully automated California quinoa bowl chain has developed small modular shelves that it calls Spotlight, which can do everything from detecting when takeout has been picked up to alerting the kitchen staff if an order hasn’t been collected to, um, just quietly holding a bag of food. Spotlight will soon be placed in three restaurants in Chicago, San Francisco (of course), and Seattle, and the company hopes that it will expand to additional locations in the future.

“A lot of remote ordered food, operators are very worried about quality,” Tim Young, Eatsa’s co-founder and CEO, told Fast Company. “Now, they have the ability to notice something has been sitting too long and do something about it.”

Uh-oh. Sounds like it’s your move, Texas Roadhouse.