Although ghost kitchen commissaries and virtual food halls have become the restaurant experience de rigueur of the post-pandemic world, Indianapolis-based Clustertruck wants to stand out by cutting out the middleman.
When you walk into one of their eight commissary kitchens, it’s the opposite of chaotic, with chefs quietly working on digital orders of Pad Thai, burritos and all-day breakfast as they come in on Clustertruck’s proprietary kitchen management software. Once the orders are prepared, they’re brought out to the company’s own drivers who make more pickups and drop-offs without leaving their car — no third-party delivery fees or partnerships in sight.
“From our delivery fleet to the way we built our software, we’re doing almost everything ourselves,” COO Brian Howenstein said. “Our couriers are independent contractors. […] We need to make sure they're making enough money, so we're not always having to having to recruit new drivers.”
So, just how much do they make? According to CEO Chris Baggott, couriers make about $7 a run with 4-6 jobs per hour, and can make up to $80,000 per year.
But in addition to paying their drivers well, Clustertruck also distinguishes itself from the competition with its no-fees structure, which they’re able to support because ghost kitchens are no frills operations compared with full brick and mortar restaurants.
“We have no front of house, so we're able to replace the front of house with our delivery fleet [cost-wise],” Howenstein said. “We’re able to use those savings from not having a front of house to managing our delivery fleet without passing on fees. As long as we’re being efficient enough, we can support that.”
The other perk to cutting out the middleman, Howenstein and Baggott said, is that they can improve customer service relations and directly respond to consumer complaints/feedback.
“If something goes wrong on DoorDash or Uber Eats, you’re probably going to get a credit, but with us we can actually fix the problem,” Howenstein said. “If your burger has something on it you can’t eat, we can get you a new hamburger and it’ll be in oyur hands in 10-12 minutes.”
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