Are self-driving vehicles the future of restaurant food delivery? |

If you’re a restaurant owner looking to grow your business and audience, self-driving delivery vehicles might sound like a good idea, but is it the right solution for small businesses?

By Jori Hamilton, RTN Editor – 4.8.2022

Autonomous vehicles have always seemed futuristic. Even ten years ago, when they were just starting to emerge, there were too many bugs and glitches to fix for many people to take them seriously.

However, autonomous delivery vehicles have come a long way in recent years. Since 2020, the technology behind autonomous vehicles has continued to develop. So much so that major companies have started exploring self-driving technology for their delivery services.

What does this mean for your business? If you’re a restaurant owner looking to grow your business and audience, self-driving delivery vehicles might sound like a good idea, but is it the right solution for small businesses? Can this technology replace human labor, and what are the potential downsides if you were to try it?

Let’s talk about some of the potential pros and cons of self-driving delivery vehicles and what they could mean for the restaurant industry as a whole.

Almost every major automaker has already embarked on self-driving technology. Many of them are trying to jump on the autonomous electric vehicle trend that is making the industry “cool” and exciting again. The end goal of every automaker these days, it seems, is to produce a vehicle that can travel from point A to point B with nothing more than keying in an address.

It’s an exciting prospect, not just for casual commuters, but for businesses as well. However, is this really a realistic undertaking?

In some ways, yes. When most people think of food delivery, pizza is the first thing that comes to mind. One of the major players in the pizza industry – Domino’s – has partnered with Nuro in Houston, Texas. Nuro is an autonomous delivery company, increasingly known for its autonomous food delivery robots.

Although these robots are unlike other cars on the road and can only reach speeds of up to 45 mph, they are changing the way some people view the future of food delivery. Chipotle has even invested in Nuro, and Chipotle has already opened an all-digital kitchen in New York that could be serviced by Nuro vehicles.

So far, Nuro has only launched in several states and has mostly gone through “trials”. However, with things going well for the company, no doubt other robotics manufacturers will follow suit and make this a more common delivery method.

Food delivery services have always been important. In 2019, it was reported that Pizza Hut was working with FedEx to use the latter’s SameDay Bot for deliveries. After 2019 when the pandemic hit, food delivery services became more popular than ever.

During the height of the pandemic, many restaurants relied on third-party delivery services to help them meet demands. While these services ensure that customers receive their orders in a timely manner, they have drawbacks, including:

  • High commission fees
  • A lack of control over the customer experience
  • An increased risk for an overwhelming influx of orders
  • Risk of vehicle damage

Due to cost and lack of control, some restaurants want to forego using third-party services. However, the alternative is to hire in-house delivery drivers. This requires more manpower, spending money on vehicles (or paying for fuel for your drivers to use theirs) and making sure you have an ordering service that allows your customers to easily select what they want.

If you can’t afford to lose an existing employee on delivery or hire someone new, self-driving vehicles like SameDay Bot can be a solution. After an initial investment, you can reap the rewards of robotics. Autonomous delivery vehicles can improve the customer experience, reduce wait times, and make it easier for your business to run smoothly without having to sacrifice employees.

Speaking of investments, major investments are not always feasible for small, family-style restaurants. So many businesses in the restaurant industry have had to hang on for life throughout the pandemic. Although things are getting back to normal, not every small business can make such a large investment as a self-driving vehicle. A poor financial attempt could lead to the complete bankruptcy of your business.

Even Nuro robots can be a risky investment. Small models can cost between $2,500 and $5,000. If they aren’t well received in your community or you have issues with them, it’s an investment that won’t yield much return.

Turning to fully-fledged autonomous vehicles is an even greater risk. Many family businesses depend on a main source of income, which means that these investments are very important for small businesses. While big companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Domino’s can afford to play with their money and try different delivery options, that may not be the case. worth taking a risk, for now.

If you can’t afford a vehicle, you can consider delivery drones. Late last year, Flytrex raised $40 million in Series C funding for its restaurant delivery drone. The funds, which bring their total to $60 million, will supposedly be used to expand services across the United States. Flytrex has been flying its drones in North Carolina since late 2020.

As technology advances, autonomous delivery vehicles will undoubtedly continue to change and become more sophisticated as well. As self-driving vehicles become more popular (and reliable), the price will also drop, making them more accessible to individuals and small businesses.

In the meantime, continue to monitor the evolving scope of food delivery. There may be investments along the way that are safer and more profitable and will boost your delivery services without breaking the bank.

Jori Hamilton is a feature editor for Restaurant Technology News. She has over 8 years of experience in the restaurant and gastronomy industry and has worked in several well-known establishments over the years. Jori covers a wide range of topics, but due to her past experience in the industry, she is particularly interested in topics related to restaurant productivity, FOH and BOH management, and restaurant technology. To find out more, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Are you an industry thought leader with a perspective on restaurant technology that you would like to share with our readers? If so, we invite you to consult our editorial guidelines and submit your article for publication.

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