EatStreet doubles drivers, adds 200 restaurants in Madison amid pandemic

Madison-based food delivery company EatStreet more than doubled its revenue last year, doubled its driver base in Madison and added about 200 area restaurants to its app. But CEO Matt Howard said driving business to the restaurants themselves was the most important part of his company.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced tens of thousands of restaurants to permanently shut their doors as dining restrictions keep customers away.

With restaurants closing or severely limiting indoor dining over the past year and customers staying home, EatStreet — which delivers in 25 cities across the U.S. — saw a major increase in the numbers of orders for delivery.

Restaurants that previously hadn’t allowed food delivery began listing their menus on the app, and EatStreet pushed promotions including coupons and free-delivery deals to encourage more orders.

“Everyone knew that for restaurants to survive, it was all about getting them as many orders as possible,” Howard said. “Not only did we see an increase in demand from restaurants, but consumers really stepped up and supported their local restaurants.”

One of the first changes EatStreet made in the pandemic was setting up contactless delivery as the default for orders, Howard said. Instead of handing off deliveries to the customer, deliveries would be placed outside the door for customers.

That and other protective measures such as sanitizing and a mask requirement are part of what drew Paul Howell to the company as a driver.

Howell was one of more than 200 drivers the company hired during the pandemic. He had previously worked for ride-hailing services, including Uber and Lyft. But as the pandemic began to take hold, he was no longer comfortable driving with strangers in his car.

“For me, the no-contact was one of the biggest things,” Howell said. “They (customers) didn’t want to see you; you didn’t want to see them. You could knock on the door, I would text them a photograph of where it was and send them a message, ‘Order’s at the front door. Have a nice day.’”

At Parthenon Gyros, 316 State St., delivery orders jumped from about 15% of orders to about 40% at the beginning of the pandemic, owner Erin Vranas said.

Parthenon started working with EatStreet about four years ago, Vranas said. The arrangement allows the restaurant to serve more people without the logistics hassles of managing drivers and finding places for them to park in a crowded Downtown.

“It’s really nice that third-party drivers can just pull up out back, put their flashers on, run inside for 30 seconds, run out with their food, and they don’t have to worry about parking,” Vranas said. “It’s really nice for Downtown to be able to take advantage of these services.”

Of course, delivery services charge their own fees — about 28% for EatStreet, Vranas said. At the current percentage of deliveries Parthenon is experiencing, that won’t cover the full costs of the meals and their preparation at their menu prices.

Even carryout orders placed through apps like EatStreet, DoorDash and GrubHub take a percentage of the bill. The trade-off is convenience, and getting customers the restaurant might have missed. But Vranas is anxious to get back to more dine-in service, to help balance those costs.

“Thankfully, the crowds are picking up a little bit more Downtown,” Vranas said. “Everyone is still being very safe and careful when it comes to the pandemic, and we’re doing whatever we can to mitigate those risks, but it’s nice to see people out and about.”

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