Hello, RDS’er! 

Phil here. And I’m back as promised with our first installment of Field Notes. Consider it your monthly serving of insight for the Restaurant Delivery Service industry with a side of practical business advice.  

Look at any great business success and you’ll find innovation and innovators. It’s easy to tell ourselves that those are the “creative types.” The people who have a knack for dreaming up new ideas. 

But I’m going to push back on that a bit…

This month the topic is innovation and why it’s about much more than just new ideas. It’s not just for the creative types either. It’s for you.

Twenty years ago, the British Cycling Team was getting nowhere in terms of winning races. In their 76 years of participation, they’d only won a single Olympic gold medal. This despite the fact that historically, bicycles are a big part of life in the UK. You could call them early adopters. 

Then an innovator arrived on the scene. His name was Sir David Brailsford, and when he took over as coach of the Olympic cycling team in 2002, he had a big challenge on his hands. But instead of focusing on huge gains, he pursued lots of tiny changes. Everything from hand-washing to prevent illness, to white paint on the floor of the mechanic’s area, to prevent dust from accumulating. 

He called his innovative approach the “theory of marginal gains.” The idea was to strive constantly for a 1% improvement in virtually every element related to cycling.

The result: Five years later the British Cycling Team won seven of the ten gold medals awarded at the 2008 Bejing Olympics.

This is a good example of an innovative idea, but was it new? Creative?

Not really. It turned out Brailsford’s approach was based on his fascination with the Japanese business philosophy called Kaizen or “continuous improvement,” which dates all the way back to the 1940s. 

Here’s my first insight on innovation: 

It’s not always the result of a creative imagination exercise. Often it’s a matter of taking a very practical look at your existing assets and strengths and finding ways to make things better. 

For example, when we began delivering convenience items for our DASHED customers, it wasn’t some ‘parting of the clouds’ moment. 

We noticed we were getting calls from our customers asking if we’d stop and pick up items like paper towels or water bottles. We realized we already had the assets we needed to pull this off with our delivery network and drivers. In fact, we were driving right by convenience stores so we could easily plug another stop into our restaurant delivery software. Why not try it? 

This turned out to be an unexpected, steady revenue source. All it took was a willingness to take action by leveraging our strengths.

This brings up another aspect that I consider to be at the heart of innovation: Action! 

When I first started DASHED, I didn’t set out to create an innovative restaurant delivery service software platform. What I wanted was to create a business that could deliver restaurant food quickly and efficiently. So, I didn’t spend my time wondering how I could be innovative. 

From the beginning, it was all about action and trying and testing things. Being in motion helped me see the opportunities to improve.

Similarly, when we started our restaurant chain, Whole Sol, the focus was on healthy, clean moderately fast food. It took action to make that a reality. And with the action came the opportunities to innovate. We don’t necessarily call ourselves innovative, but others do. And we’re good with that.

A few things I noticed this week in the field…

Panera’s new unlimited coffee subscription program is an excellent way to use an existing asset or product in a new way. Panera is seen as a place where people sit down for coffee. Coffee is a strength, something they’re known for, so why not build on that?

By the way, Americans get 75% of their daily caffeine intake from coffee – about three cups a day. So, with 500K subscribers at 9 bucks a month… Yeah. Well played, Panera!

Here’s an innovative way to show you care. In this case, it’s an app that automatically notifies other users when it detects an auto accident. Other features include a panic button. 

Part of your aim as an RDS is to keep your delivery people happy, so here’s an innovative way to accomplish that. Set up your delivery drivers with the app and offer yourself or your dispatcher as an ICE contact in case of an accident during work hours.

Significant players and investments are lining up for ghost kitchens. In this case, it’s Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber. Obviously, he sees a way to leverage the existing strength of a huge bank of potential delivery drivers who are out and about every day.

Ghost kitchens are interesting and new and appear to be a viable solution, but the concept has its challenges. For example, people play favorites when it comes to restaurants and food. This really came to light when COVID hit. Fast food restaurants have been killing it. 

People identify with the brand as well as the food. A ghost kitchen doesn’t offer the same kind of connection. At least not yet.

Avoid the innovative error 

Don’t just try to be innovative, try to be better this week than you were last week. It’s like the old adage about happiness being like the butterfly that lands on your shoulder when you turn your attention to other things. 

As an RDS owner, being innovative may just mean turning your attention to other things like practical actions for improving your customer’s experience, rather than imagining what’s possible.

Don’t just aim to be an innovator; aim for creative ways to improve your business. The truth is you can be one of those “creative types.” When you have an intense desire to deliver excellence, innovation will follow. 

What say you?

The goal of these “field notes” is to share my observations as a startup entrepreneur in restaurant delivery and now with a restaurant chain. 

What questions do you have for me? Whether it has to do with the industry, operations or marketing, or maybe just getting the attention of your next restaurant prospect, I may have an idea or two. Hit me up by replying to this message and we’ll see if we can feature your question in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, be safe out there and enjoy the Holiday Season.

See you in the field,

p.s. If you know someone you think might benefit from my scribbles, please share.

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