Why it's time to get on board with takeout and delivery—even if it means scaling back on in-store focus.
$365 billion. That’s the number investment bank UBS forecasts global delivery sales will reach by the year 2028, up from just $35 billion in 2018. And as one of the first categories to invest heavily in delivery decades ago, those in the pizza business plan to cash in even further on the skyrocketing demand for off-premises dining.
At Russo’s New York Pizzeria—a casual-dining chain with nearly 50 locations across the U.S. and internationally—between 35 and 40 percent of its business comes from off-premises dining, which includes delivery, takeout, and catering. Not only does the brand partner with third-party delivery companies like UberEats and DoorDash, but it also employs in-house delivery drivers at each location.
“Delivery has always done well at Russo’s,” says founder and chef Anthony Russo. “I see our sales trending upward year after year because our main focus is delivery, then dine-in business.”
This demand for away-from-restaurant dining is just one of the reasons Russo’s is choosing to keep its average footprint on the smaller side, with some locations clocking in at just 1,500 square feet. “I would design future stores with a smaller footprint because demand for delivery is only going to rise,” Russo says. “You don’t need a 4,000- or 5,000-square-foot restaurant anymore.”
New York City’s Sauce Pizzeria operates on an even more space-conscious scale than Russo’s as a way to meet the needs of convenience-seeking customers, many of whom choose to enjoy its thin-crust pies in the comfort of their own home. Its two locations do between 30 and 50 percent of business via off-premises dining, fulfilling up to 50 delivery orders on an average day. That’s why its dining rooms stay small—only 750 square feet—with its Lower East Side unit offering just a dozen seats to in-store diners.
“The way the pizzerias are set up is about half kitchen and half front of house,” says owner Adam Elzer. “This way, we have a lot of room to keep up with delivery and keep everything really organized.”
The demand for delivery and takeout is so great, in fact, that Sauce plans to add even more kitchen space to future locations, starting with a soon-to-open pizzeria on 32nd Street that will tack on several hundred square feet to the back of house.
Limited-service chain Little Caesars has been taking a somewhat different approach to satisfying the desire for off-premises dining, launching its Express units back in 2016. Available in three formats—ranging from 475 to 800 square feet—the locations are a grab-and-go version of the typical Little Caesars, with some units forgoing staff altogether for a self-service experience.
However, not every player in the pizza game is ready to go all in on off-premises—at least not at the expense of its footprint and in-store focus. Grimaldi’s recently began partnering with UberEats and DoorDash for third-party delivery while also offering takeout at all locations and curbside pickup at select stores. Nevertheless the full-service pizzeria remains dedicated to driving traffic into, rather than away from, its units.
“At Grimaldi’s, it’s an experience. It’s about coming in, getting greeted by the host, getting a drink at the bar, and meeting the bartender,” says president and COO Eric Greenwald. “When you take anything home—especially from Grimaldi’s—it’s still great, but you lose the experience.”
That being said, there’s no denying that delivery and takeout have become a critical part of the Grimaldi’s business. “Five years ago, I never even had a meeting about to-go. It was less than 10 percent of my business,” Greenwald says. “But it’s a full-on meeting now. It’s a different way of training; it’s a different way of designing a store; it’s a different way of hiring. It has completely changed the dynamic of what we do.”
Though Grimaldi’s has no plans to scale down the size of its stores—which typically range between 3,700 and 4,000 square feet—it is looking at ways to alter the layout of its locations to better meet the demand for delivery, which now accounts for up to 25 percent of sales at certain outposts. This includes eliminating a section of seating to make room for pick-up kiosks (complete with their own POS and take-out team member), as well as dedicating a second oven solely to delivery and takeout orders in stores where space allows.
The company is also considering opening ghost kitchen locations—back-of-house-only concepts focused on fulfilling off-premises orders. “This isn’t a trend, and it’s not going away,” Greenwald says of the growth in away-from-unit dining. “We are preparing in every way, shape, and form to continue serving a five-star level of service, whether you’re coming in to dine with us or getting it delivered.”