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<p>Domino&#39;s has raised the food delivery game with its new fleet of high-tech vehicles.</p>

Micro cars enable next-gen restaurant delivery

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Whether outsourced to a third party or handled in-house, delivery may turn out to be the biggest challenge restaurant operators face next year. The old school strategy employed by delivery dependent Domino’s Pizza is unlikely to work for other restaurants, but the company’s snazzy new DXP delivery vehicle is worth a look by any operator who wants to cash in on the home delivery boom. Pizza delivery just scratches the surface of what a vehicle like this could do. 

Domino’s isn’t the only company eager to up its home delivery game. Amazon and Walmart are seeking to deploy fleets of drones to rapidly transport their wares.  The founders of Skype are backing a self-driving robot that delivers up to 20 pounds of food at a time.

Google wants drones, too, but could perhaps use its driverless car technology for terrestrial delivery instead. It’s no wonder the ace trend trackers at restaurant consultancy Baum + Whiteman have declared that “Tech-driven delivery is 2015-2016's Big Disrupter of food retailing and food service.” Domino’s initiative isn’t particularly tech-driven, but could be disruptive in its own way. The chain’s customized DXP car offers everything from highly intuitive driver ergonomics to a holding oven even the health department can love. That side-mounted oven keeps food at 140 degrees—the same temperature at which holding cabinets found in commercials kitchens are typically set.  

The car, a 2016 Chevrolet Spark, seats just one person–a driver. The rest of the interior is configured to store additional pizzas—up to 80 pies in a single load—and provides built-in holders for two-liter soda bottles, napkins and dipping sauce containers. It’s like nothing the industry has seen before.

The DXP is a collaboration between Local Motors, Roush Enterprises and General Motors. Phoenix-based vehicle innovation firm Local Motors crowdsourced the DXP’s design from its online network of automotive hotshots. Livonia, MI-based custom engineering firm Roush Enterprises—separate from, but related to, NASCAR’s Roush Fenway racing team—did the customized build-out. GM supplied the Sparks.

The finished product’s list price is surprisingly reasonable. Domino’s franchise owners can buy the vehicles for between $20,000 and $25,000 apiece. That’s not much for a highly customized subcompact categorized as a “city car,” a marketing term for “so small it’s a little scary to drive on the interstate.” The Spark is a couple of inches shorter than a Mini Cooper. It’s just the right size for making make multiple in-town deliveries in busy cities.

One reason these tricked-out cars don’t cost much is that Domino’s corporate subsidized the substantial design and engineering fees on this project. Just 100 vehicles will be available in the initial phase.

The DXP is optimized for pizza, but could be used to carry almost any food item that requires a 140-degree holding temperature for both food safety and food quality-related reasons. An operator with an entrepreneurial bent could, say, pre-cook prime rib at his restaurant, load whole roasts into the vehicle, spread word of their availability via social media and sell individual slices door-to-door. The same goes for many other menu items restaurants cook off ahead of time and hold in warming ovens during service.  

Sound crazy? Something very much like this is already being done by UberEATS.

Its drivers cruise around with a carful of ready-to-eat restaurant food and wait for orders to come in. A very limited menu—typically one choice from each of three restaurants that partner with Uber—makes it feasible. It’s a cool high-tech on-demand service that ranks as the state of the art in high-speed delivery right now. But relative to Domino’s, it’s just drivers schlepping around premade food in their personal vehicles, holding time and temperature unknown.

Given what restaurant operators have done to elevate the food truck experience—creating an entirely new category of dining for millions of customers—we can’t wait to see how they use DXP-type vehicles. This car is a breakthrough for Domino’s, but it could lead to innovative delivery ventures for many other operators.

Contact Bob Krummert at [email protected]

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