Restaurant Curbside Pick-up Apps: What You Need Know

Ah, curbside pickup. The concept of is hardly new—in fact, it has roots in the carhop culture of the 1920s, which is decidely cool. But in the coronavirus pandemic, nothing is "decidedly" anything—uncertainty reigns, and curbside pickup less a novelty than a lifeline for many restaurants as they wait and hope for a future in which they can fully reopen.

Until then, offering a curbside pickup system is one smart way to ensure that your restaurant remains an accessible option for those customers who are unwilling or unable to return to regular dining. For the immunocompromised and the elderly, increased dining options like curbside pickup can allow these individuals to return to some semblance of normalcy—and it can help your restaurant continue to make sales if (or *gulp* when) we see a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks this fall.

In this article we'll cover:

  • What curbside pickup is

  • How your restaurant can benefit from curbside pickup

  • Some of the most popular curbside pickup apps

  • Training your staff for curbside fulfillment

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What is curbside pickup?

A curbside pickup system enables you to serve customers without them actually entering your restaurant, and without having to provide a delivery service or wait around after placing a to-go order. This system is a happy medium that falls somewhere in between a traditionally placed to-go order and a delivery order.

By using a curbside pickup system, staff bring customers' order outside to them, rather than inviting them into the restaurant. This allows restaurant staff to keep a safe distance, and keeps everyone in the open air. The current thinking is that good ventilation systems are key to increased safety during the COVID-19 crisis—and when it comes to ventilation, nothing beats the great outdoors.

Curbside is also a great way to further develop your omni-channel strategy and tie your brick-and-mortar location to an ecommerce experience, which may become relevant if the COVID-19 crisis worsens again this fall.

How does curbside pickup work?

Each platform has different prompts, customizable flows, and so forth, but the overall premise is fairly simple, and fairly standardized. Your customer places their order online, selects a time slot for pickup, and pays through the online system. Then your restaurant receives their order, and at the designated time, the customer walks or drives up. Your staff then places the order directly in the customer's car, or hands off the order to them outside or is set outside for contactless pick-up. Boom, curbside success!

Why is it important for your restaurant to have curbside pickup?

According to new data from Adobe Analytics, 30% of consumers said they prefer curbside pickup to delivery, which makes a curbside pickup system a clearly great option that can potentially increase your orders. (Additionally, 65% of consumers say that social distancing has encouraged them to try new ways of buying food, so more may be open to curbside pickup than they think).

A streamlined curbside system is also a smart way for restaurants to increase sales when they have limited seating capacity, since all of the orders are taken to-go, and keeps all transactions cashless, which is ideal in an era when most Americans fear touching cash.

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As more and more systems become automated, curbside pickup tech will become a great component of your business even when the COVID-19 crisis finally comes to a close (whenever that may be.) The present moment is an especially good time to test it out. As the whole world shifts and changes to accommodate new safety procedures and new systems, consumers are markedly more tolerant of new systems—and all of the attendant kinks that need to be worked out when they're instituted.

What are the popular curbside pick-up apps?

  1. Swipeby: This customer-facing app offers a turnkey curbside pickup platform, taking care of basically everything for you. Swipeby utilizes a location technology to generate arrival notifications, so when your customer arrives, your staff gets an alert letting them know who's there, what the order is, and what vehicle they're driving, making for a smooth fulfillment process for both your staff and your customer. Swipeby also gives you access to your business' customer data, which can provide invaluable insights that may help you increase revenue.

  2. Square Order: Many restaurants and coffee shops moved to using Square as a point-of-sale system, but fewer have taken advantage of Square Order, which allows customers to preorder through their mobile phones. With Square Order, customers can place orders en route and schedule a pick-up for ASAP or for a particular time. This system increases efficiency for both the customer and staff, and is an especially great option for those already using the Square POS system.

  3. Curbie: Launched in April 2020, Curbie is a relatively new app intended for restaurants and other small businesses. One upside: it's super simple to set up—the whole process takes just ten minutes—which makes it very appealing. The flipside is that it offers less automation. For instance, Curbie asks customers to text you when they arrive (although it does allow you to customize the text yourself, so you can stay on-brand!)

  4. Postmates: Postmates launched a curbside pickup feature in May 2020, which can be doubly helpful for some restaurants because it also keeps delivery drivers from entering the store. For restaurants that already work with Postmates—and those who offer delivery and are trying to maximize safety for your staff—this could be a great fit.A streamlined curbside system is also a smart way for restaurants to increase sales

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How to train your staff for curbside pickup

While there's bound to be a learning curve for staff regarding a new curbside pickup app, there are also ways to make it run more smoothly from the get-go.

  • Make sure every person on the team is introduced to the new tech. Even if they're unlikely to have to interact with it on a regular basis themselves, all staff members should be familiar with the system so they can handle it if need be.

  • Designate staff to manage pickup and delivery orders. Asking servers who are focused on waiting tables to also pay attention to an app will more than likely lead to disaster. Instead, make sure there's at least one staff person whose sole responsibility is to manage curbside pickup and delivery orders. In some instances, a host stand can double as this.

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  • Train on proper packaging techniques. If your team is unused to packaging up food to-go, it's important to train them in packing well so that the food doesn't leak or spill—a surefire way to make customers very unhappy.

  • Create an efficient curbside pickup stand. This should have hand sanitizer, napkins, utensils, take-out bags, containers, disposable plates… whatever you're planning on providing to customers, all in one easy-to-access location.

  • Think about how to make your pickup area work well. If you have a parking lot, reserve spaces near the front door for curbside pick-up only. By making it easy for staff to jump out and deliver the goods, you're making a system that's easy for everyone involved. Also consider incorporating a welcome zone. While it may look a little bare-bones at first, creating a visually appealing environment can add value to the customer experience.

[Photo: Anna Shvets via Pexels]