While restaurants are opening-up and dine in business is on the rise, the pandemic has made ordering dinner a habit for many people and delivery demand remains high in the food industry. And that change in customer behavior is likely to keep restaurants searching for affordable delivery options in the face of DoorDash and Grubhub’s high percentage takes. 

The pandemic pitted many restaurants against third party delivery services, but now Delivery First, a restaurant focused food delivery start-up, has entered the Oak Park market and aims to disrupt the gig economy and do away with percentage-based fees.

Delivery First was started by restaurant owners who were trying win the delivery battle, but they could not make the math work. Anthony Gambino, CEO of Delivery First, tried to find a reliable third-party delivery service for his restaurants well before the pandemic hit.

“All the services compromised our cashflow. Even though we were doing more deliveries our profits were down overall,” said Gambino. “It was clear we needed to get out of the delivery business or get way more in.”

Gambino is a partner in the Victory Restaurant Group which recently opened Victory Italian on Marion Street. He also owns Armand’s franchises from the family-owned businesses on North Avenue in Elmwood Park.

Disillusioned with the expensive, order-generating, mark-up machines delivery services had become, Gambino chose to dive into the business. Delivery First is structured more like a courier service than food delivery services like Grubhub or DoorDash in charging a flat fee per order. The newcomer aims to lower costs to restaurant owners who have paid more than 30% of every delivery order to Grubhub and DoorDash.

Restaurants are often forced to raise prices to account for the fees associated with third party delivery services. The same dish that may cost $12 when ordered in a restaurant may cost more than $20 when listed on a third-party delivery site. Restaurants raise prices to cover high fees.

Delivery First aims to offer clarity to both restaurant owners and customers. With a flat fee of $7 per order restaurants can leave their menu prices alone and simply charge customers a delivery fee they feel is appropriate. 

Unlike the independent contractors affiliated with some services, Delivery First is employee based. Drivers are paid an hourly wage plus tips with a guaranteed threshold. Drivers can contribute to a 401K and are eligible for workman’s compensation should they be injured on the job.

Because drivers are on-demand employees they are paid for the entirety of their shift and their vehicles are insured through Delivery First minimizing liability risk exposure for restaurant owners. Standardized uniforms are provided for all delivery drivers as well.

Additionally, Delivery First will deliver for a restaurant no matter how the order is generated. 

“When customers call a restaurant looking for delivery they are often told to hang up and order through an app,” said Gambino. “Sales can be lost this way, but with Delivery First, restaurant employees themselves can request a delivery though our service no matter what method a customer uses to place an order.”

Though Delivery First is transport focused, they responded to customer demand and now offer an online ordering app and website. Participating restaurants do not have to utilize the service to access delivery drivers, but the fees are very affordable — just $1.50 for each order placed directly through the Delivery First website and $1 if the order is placed through the Delivery First on a restaurant’s website. Ordering fees for Grubhub or DoorDash can climb to 20% of an order.

Gambino and his team began building the Delivery First app in 2017 and took on their first client in Elmhurst in 2019. Though small, the company is now in a growth phase and actively expanding into what Gambino refers to as the “parks region. The area includes Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest. Several Elmwood Park restaurants are using the service already and both Victory Italian and Poke Burrito in Oak Park have joined.

Sean Hennessy, president of Delivery First is an Oak Park resident and can see the benefits of the Delivery First service for restaurants in the community.

“I grew up in Elmhurst and Oak Park was our downtown,” said Hennessy. “Lake Street was our destination for shopping. I have been an Oak Park consumer since I could walk.”

When it came time to set down roots Hennessy naturally gravitated to Oak Park. Now the husband and father is excited to bring Delivery First to his hometown.

The Oak Park area is an emerging hub with a current team of 10 “on demand” drivers. As more restaurants join the program Delivery First is committed to hiring drivers from inside the community. The company currently employs 120 drivers, and the position has proven to be appealing to retirees and college students alike.

“Our goal is to be a local delivery partner,” said Hennessy. “We are not a nameless or faceless organization. We are looking to form meaningful local partnerships.”

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