Online ordering and delivery has quickly become an extremely valuable and integral part of the restaurant industry. Nearly every restaurant has had to adapt to this new system or close their doors. Despite being handled by various companies — ranging from monolithic to mom-and-pop — their business models are almost all the same.
For Nick and Amy Bonanno and their startup Curbside Ninja, helping out restaurants came first; money could wait.
The Bonannos are the founders and owners of Simple Media, a creative agency in Dallas that focuses on web development and social media strategy for the companies. One of their clients, an Italian restaurant, expressed displeasure with how inefficient their third-party delivery drivers were, and how they were being charged a 32% commission for the service.
“We had thought about the business before,” Nick says. “It initially was a wish, but when the shutdown happened, it became a necessity.”
With restaurants like the ones he worked with for Simple Media in mind, he founded Curbside Ninja.
Third-party delivery services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash offer their services with commission-based pricing. Restaurants that make more in delivery sales pay more in commissions — a simple system that works for some, assuming it's not a restaurant’s sole source of income.
With the COVID-19 pandemic flipping the system on its head, many restaurants had to choose between making dishes that would earn only meager returns or closing their doors. While some delivery apps have reduced their commission prices during the pandemic or offered deals for newcomers, for many it simply isn’t enough to justify keeping an entire kitchen crew on staff.
This was what Curbside Ninja aimed to fix.
“We started the business without really knowing how we were going to make money from it. There's the saying that goes: ‘You jump off the mountain first and build your wings on the way down,’” Nick says.
They had invested their time and skill into making a system for restaurants to integrate into their existing websites.
“It's different because other websites are third-party; for us it's an online menu with curbside pickup and takeout logistics built in,” he says.
For this first version of Curbside Ninja, the couple wasn’t making money off the restaurant’s sales but instead testing the system to see where its flaws were and how to make it better.
“For some restaurants, it was a lifesaver,” Nick says. “We wanted to empower restaurants to keep 100% of their hard-earned money, specifically during COVID.”
Alongside the commission fees and sometimes lackluster service, many third-party takeout services require an entirely separate point-of-sale system to process any orders purchased through their app.
It's why you can often see two or more registers at the front desk of your favorite restaurants, usually a mixture of iPads and kiosks that hosts and managers have to juggle as orders come in throughout the day to hedge their bets on who will order from which site.
Curbside Ninja aims to remedy this by not only integrating the online ordering with the restaurant's website, but to integrate with the restaurant’s current sales system.
“When you click on 'order now,' it jumps over to our app, but we match the header, footer, typography, everything so it doesn’t even look like you’re going to a third-party site,” Nick says.
But it’s not an easy task to wrangle myriad restaurants' different ways of handling payments and orders.
“It probably would have been easier climbing Mount Everest than what we just did,” Nick says.
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Through weeks of calling, vetting, auditing, getting platform certifications and going through miles of bureaucratic tape, Curbside Ninja was able to garner the ability to connect to 37 different point-of-sale systems. Today, they're working with restaurants such as Loveria Caffe, Lockwood Distilling and Whisk Crepes Cafe.
Ultimately, the future of Curbside Ninja is to progress and change along with the technology available to them. The Bonannos both think helping restaurants locally empowers the community around them, and so their method of finally turning a profit will be based on a different method than the competition.
“We want it to be subscription-based,” Nick says. “No percentage-based model. The price will be baked into the features we provide, at a flat fee per location.”
With many restaurants balancing multiple third-party sites and still struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, Curbside Ninja aims to be the one-stop-shop for making online ordering profitable again.