Imagine a piping hot coffee delivered to your office or home at the proverbial "click of a button." For consumers, it's perfect. For the coffee companies attempting to provide these services, it's a bit more complicated. But two of the major chains, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, are ready to give it a try.
2015 was a big year for Starbucks, which added several services designed to be quick and convenient. In September, the company rolled out nationwide availability of Mobile Order & Pay through its apps, which allows customers to order ahead on the app and pick up in-store without waiting. In October, Starbucks announced a pilot project: It started bringing coffee and other items to employees of the Empire State Building through an in-house service, Starbucks Green Apron Delivery, which promised items "delivered by Starbucks baristas right to your office." And in December, Starbucks officially debuted its previously announced partnership with start-up Postmates, allowing customers in Seattle to order delivery using the Starbucks app.
It's not just Starbucks getting into the delivery game. In November, Dunkin' Donuts launched two programs designed to "make it even easier and more convenient for people to run on Dunkin' from morning to night," announced a company press release. On-the-go ordering — which works with the company's app in a similar style to Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay — first launched in Portland, Maine. Dunkin' Delivery, meanwhile, first launched in Dallas as a partnership with the on-demand delivery start-up DoorDash, and both services have expanded into other cities.
"Although fast-food and coffee chains have great convenience, the expectation by consumers to get food delivered is increasing."
But why coffee delivery? "Both ordering methods are simply new ways to... meet customers where they are in their day," says Starbucks spokesperson Maggie Jantzen. Apparently, the most-asked-for service on the My Starbucks Idea blog was, "When will Starbucks just bring me coffee?"
According to Darren Tristano, the president of food industry research firm Technomic, "with the rise of on-demand delivery services like Postmates and others, many operators have researched the opportunity to outsource or build delivery services," and that includes brands already known for convenience. "Although fast-food and coffee chains have great convenience — including in-store and drive-through options — the expectation by consumers to get restaurant food delivered is increasing," he says, "and broadening across new segments."
But anyone who has waited longer than expected for a food delivery, received a dish that had cooled in transit, or not received what was ordered, understands that delivery logistics are complicated. Unlike Amazon shipments, there's only a brief window of time that most food items can be delivered before getting cold or spoiling, and some might say that the window is even shorter for coffee.
"The flavor and aroma characteristics of hot, brewed coffee drinks change quite rapidly as the temperature decreases," says Nick Brown, editor of Roast Magazine's Daily Coffee News. "And while everyone drinks their beverage at a different pace, the most loyal of customers may have some sensory expectations tied to their favorite drinks. Time and temperature seem to be the two biggest obstacles here in repeating the experiences consumers have come to expect within the brick-and-mortar retail locations."
"Given the number of locations that each brand has, it should be relatively easy to develop delivery options," Tristano says of the logistics. "Challenges facing both operators will include peak time service, logistics in-house, and managing the delivery in a way that doesn't impact the on-premise operation or the brand quality as products leave the store."
Starbucks's rollout of Green Apron delivery seems to take these concerns into consideration. The company used existing infrastructure for its Empire State Building delivery: The building already had a Starbucks café, and the company uses a separate kitchen for the Green Apron orders. There are more than 12,000 employees in the building, but they are all just an elevator ride away. Customers place orders on a fairly simple website. Orders arrive in approximately 30 minutes, according to the company. But Ashley Fleishman, a lawyer who works in the Empire State Building, reported coffee delivered in 10 minutes. And yes, "the coffee is still hot," she says.
Starbucks’s "Green Apron Delivery" service is designed for deskside deliveries within large high-rise buildings.
Green Apron Delivery partners are discouraged from accepting cash tips, says a company rep, but the company is working on adding digital tip options to the website. And although Starbucks did not share plans for expanding Green Apron, Jantzen describes the service as one "for customers within a designated high-rise building."
The company has, at least, one new customer. Fleishman used to get her caffeine fix from her office's Keurig machine. "I am not a religious coffee drinker," she says. "So with Starbucks, I probably drink more than I previously did before delivery was offered."
While the Green Apron delivery seems to focus on office delivery, "customers aren't just in office buildings," according to a Starbucks press release announcing the Postmates partnership in Seattle. "They're at soccer games with their kids, at home with family, or gathering at the park with friends." To get those skinny lattes to soccer games, Starbucks teamed with Postmates, a delivery company that has a love-hate relationship with the restaurant industry. (Postmates often offers delivery from restaurants without their consent.) Despite the complicated relationship with restaurants, Starbucks considers Postmates "an industry leader in the on-demand delivery space," writes Jantzen. "They have the technology and expertise to scale this program with Starbucks."
It's safe to say Postmates is committed to the relationship: According to the company, they've designed a new carrier "so that we could ensure that the coffee would arrive the way it left the store." Customers order through the Starbucks app, which has been modified to use Postmates' ordering and delivery technology, the first and only food company app to do so. Users in Seattle and elsewhere can still order through Postmates directly, but having delivery built into Starbucks app allows customers to customize orders, the company said in a press release. For Postmates deliveries, Starbucks charges a $5.99 delivery fee.
Jantzen also says that Starbucks has "no additional plans to share in regards to other food delivery companies." But it would not be uncommon for large chains to test our various food delivery options. For example, 7-Eleven is working with both Postmates and DoorDash in different cities. In terms of logistics, Slurpees have a lot in common with coffee — a delivery that's just a few minutes late can be problematic.
Dunkin' Delivery customers can order only through the DoorDash app — DoorDash has experience working with chains including Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The partnership probably made getting the program of the ground easier for Dunkin' Donuts, but will most likely limit the information they can gather from their customers. For the partnership, DoorDash began deliveries at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., a few hours earlier than the typical 10 a.m. start time, in order to serve breakfast. Breakfast and food in general is a growing category for many fast food companies, according to Brown.
"This strikes me as a relatively low-risk channel to explore, especially if the technology bears out."
"While breakfast has been a strong suit, we've seen roughly one-third of coffee orders come after lunch," says Prahar Shah, the head of business development at DoorDash. Office deliveries are popular. "We see three to four folks on a team doing the 'coffee run,' but doing it with DoorDash." Dunkin' Donuts' Box 'O Joe, which holds 10 cups of coffee in a box, are popular with the late-afternoon office crowd, says Shah.
This partnership has expanded from Dallas to Washington DC, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles/Orange County. And Dunkin' Donuts is looking to expand delivery, with or without DoorDash. "As we continue to test Dunkin' Delivery, we will look to explore options for other partnerships and integrations with the DD Mobile App," writes Sherrill Kaplan, who works on digital marketing and innovation at Dunkin' Brands.
"Both companies have made big strides in their app development and mobile ordering platforms, and it makes perfect sense that they would try to leverage that loyalty through a new channel," such as delivery, writes Brown, the Roast editor. "This strikes me as a relatively low-risk channel to explore, especially if the technology bears out."