Dinner is served. The Fort Smith region welcomed a soft launch of Lake Charles, La.-based home restaurant delivery service Waitr earlier this week. The app, which launched in 2015, rolls out region-wide on Thursday (June 7) with a 5 p.m. launch party at Joe’s Grill & Cantina on 74th Street.
From day one, Waitr will deliver orders from 26 local restaurants with two “coming soon” locations: Beef Master BBQ & Meat Market on Spradling Avenue and The Pizza Place of Van Buren. (The rest of the list is available at the bottom of this article.)
“The Fort Smith community and restaurant owners saw the excitement and success of our food delivery in the area and wanted to be part of it,” said Whitney Savoie, Market Development Director for Waitr. “We’re thrilled we can now meet that demand here” after launching in Northwest Arkansas in August 2017. Nationwide, Waitr now has more than 5,000 restaurant partners and over one million users in more than 180 cities.
Dean Turcol, a company representative, told Talk Business & Politics the company has had an “on the ground team” in Fort Smith for the last few months prepping the launch. Turcol did not have any statistics from the first few days, explaining, “We usually do a soft launch, and what that means is we’ll have a couple of people call early, so we can work out any kinks before the larger rollout. We have a launch team on the ground there and they go to the areas around the restaurants where we have relationship partners. They’ll say, ‘Hey, Waitr is in town.’ It’s basically a practice time for us before things start to pick up.”
The advantage to partnering with Waitr from the restaurant perspective, Turcol said, is a 15%-18% boost in sales around the actual launch date and sustained delivery business without the overhead or travel liabilities. Waitr earns money from a flat $5 delivery fee and a negotiated percentage with the restaurants based on “what the market will bear.” Also, Waitr physically goes to each location and takes professional photographs of every menu item so customers can see what they’ll be eating before adding it to their order. Turcol said rights to the photographs are conveyed to restaurants for personal use as a marketing tool outside of the Waitr app.
The Fort Smith market will be the sixth in Arkansas for Waitr. Other cities include Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, and Little Rock. Turcol said there was “nothing on the schedule through the rest of 2018,” but did not rule out other cities in 2019. Much of the decision-making on issues like that and the number of drivers Waitr will hire is contingent on market demand. Turcol said the company usually launches with “40-50 drivers” in addition to their city manager and marketing team before settling in at “150-200 (drivers), or whatever the demand is.” Drivers are employees of Waitr and are paid for their shift regardless of activity levels. Employees submit their preferred shifts, and Waitr works to honor the hours to ensure predictable workflow and faster delivery times.
“Between the hourly rate and tipping, our drivers can usually earn between $15-$20 an hour,” Turcol said.
From an ordering perspective, Turcol noted most orders are in the $10-$20 range or up to $30 for two people, but group/office lunch orders, in particular, can be much higher.
The app’s group order function allows each individual in a home, office, or workplace to join a group, add their order, pay for it individually, and the entire delivery still only be $5.
“That ($5) doesn’t change regardless of order size,” Turcol said. “Our most popular delivery times are Fridays, Saturdays, and lunchtimes throughout the week, so the group ordering function is a big deal for us.”
Waitr also allows in-app order tracking and tipping. Following are Waitr participants as of June 6.
Jim’s Razorback Pizza
Great American Cookies
Charley’s Philly Steaks
Joe’s Grill & Cantina
Asuka Sushi & Hibachi
Eunice’s Country Cookin’
Green Papaya (both locations)
Art’s BBQ & Burgers
Burrito Bowl Mexican Grill
Sam’s Southern Eatery
Smakin’ Mac’s Snak Shak
Thai Curry – Fort Smith
Thai Curry – Van Buren
Fried Rice on Midland Blvd.
D&R’s Trolley Stop
Butcher Boys Meat Market
Saku Saku Hibachi & Sushi Express
Las Fresas Mexican Grill