Sustenance, profits found in food-delivery business

December 09, 1993|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Staff Writer

Who cares about hectic lives when you can have anything from beef Wellington and filet mignon to a tuna sandwich from your favorite restaurant delivered to your doorstep and set up on your table.

And all this is done just by picking up the phone and placing your order through such food delivery services as Takeout Taxi and Restaurants 2 You in Annapolis.

At Takeout Taxi recently, Donna Piscopo phoned in an order for herself and her daughter, Anna: a cheeseburger, Chicken Tenders basket and Snickers Blitz from T. G. I. Friday's.

"I love it," Mrs. Piscopo said of the concept. "I have a 2 1/2 -year-old, and sometimes I can't get out of the house right away, so I order from them."

Co-owner Stephen A. Willett enters her phone number into a computer, which also contains the menus of 11 restaurants. Selecting the menu for T. G. I. Friday's, he enters in what the Piscopos want and how they want it prepared. Orders are faxed to the restaurant and Mr. Willett radio-dispatches one of his drivers to pick up and deliver the order.

In the industry, service charges on customer orders range from $3.50 to $9.

Both Annapolis companies charge $3.50 for deliveries from a single restaurant, $5.50 if the order involves more than one.

Meals ordered through Takeout Taxi average $27, Mr. Willett said.

Delivery services make money off both the customer, through the delivery charge, and the restaurants, which sell their food to the company at a discount.

While some companies in the industry jot down a customer's order on a pad of paper, both Annapolis delivery services are computerized -- a key to success, said Don Parker, co-owner of Restaurants 2 You, which works with more than two dozen restaurants and has its drivers wear white chef coats to deliver customer orders.

Restaurants 2 You is the area's senior delivery service, opening 20 months ago. Mr. Willett and his partner, Ronald T. Zebrowski, opened their Annapolis Takeout Taxi franchise in September 1992.

Seven years ago, only about six such businesses existed in the nation. Now there are about 800, said Peter Hetherington, publisher of Meal Delivery Digest, an industry newsletter based in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

"The whole concept of home delivery is very hot right now," said Wendy Webster, spokeswoman for the Washington-based National Restaurant Association.

Most delivery services are independently operated. But there are three large national franchisers, said Mr. Hetherington, who opened his own restaurant delivery service, Restaurant Express, Newport Beach, Calif., in 1986.

He ran the business for five years before selling it to employees so he could devote more time to consulting. The business is now called Diner's Express.

Of the three national franchisers in the industry, Virginia-based Takeout Taxi is considered "the major player," Mr. Hetherington said.

Takeout Taxi has five franchises in Maryland, including the one in Annapolis. The company operates 60 franchises in 22 states.

Franchise costs range from $25,000 to $75,000, depending on the size of the operation, said Taylor Devine, president of the parent company.

Takeout Taxi was founded in 1987 by Kevin Abt, who was looking for a way to get his favorite restaurants' food delivered to his door after he and his wife had their first child.

His company has experienced staggering growth since going national in 1991, when its five franchises pulled in $1 million.

Sales doubled in 1992 with the opening of 25 franchises. This year, company sales have skyrocketed to $17 million with the opening of 30 more franchises, said Mr. Devine. Ten new franchises are planned for early next year, he said.

"Parents can get their salads. The kids can get their chicken fingers," Mr. Willett said. "That's what I like about it -- it's a common-sense idea."

The business delivers in the Annapolis, Edgewater, Crownsville and Arnold areas, sticking to areas within a 10- to 12-mile radius from the restaurant, Mr. Willett said.

Restaurants 2 You services about two-thirds of Anne Arundel County, Mr. Parker said, including Severna Park, Gambrills, Davidsonville and Crofton.

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