Meals on Two Wheels
To understand why the Bike Waiter has taken off across the Midwest, it’s important to understand the nuances of the San Antonio, Texas market. When Shane Broussard got started with the business in 2011, San Antonio was known for tourism but was missing a lot of the big city services that neighboring urban areas enjoyed.
“One of the challenges restaurant owners have in downtown is that real estate is really expensive,” explains Shane. As such, many restaurants exist outside of walking distance for the workers who are looking for convenient lunch options Monday through Friday. “I started Bike Waiter to connect local restaurants to hungry office people.”
Betting on Bicycles
Shane got started after another bike-based venture he started in 2008. The model was essentially moving billboards for restaurants. He had built a network of contacts in the restaurant industry and recognized the dual need for seamless delivery for customers and better marketing for restaurateurs.
“The downtown lifestyle is that you are out and about, not like a traditional suburban family. The best way to reach people that are out and about is be out there with them,” Shane says.
In the years since Shane started the business, the on-demand delivery sector has solidified even in smaller markets like San Antonio. However, Shane points to several key differences between Bike Waiter and newcomer competitors. “Other services seem to grow by increasing their footprint instead of by density,” says Shane. “We’ve taken the opposite approach by saturating our market.” Bike Waiter quickly grew to servicing 50 restaurants just in the downtown San Antonio area. He says his competitors probably have 50 across half the city.
“That was our strategy for the first couple of years,” says Shane. Then, in 2013 he had the opportunity to acquire a business called Griffin Delivery out of Saint Louis. “He had been around a few years, and it was a similar concept,” reflects Shane. “But they had a bit of trouble meeting the bottom line.” Shane entered the new market in 2013 and by 2015 had opened up in Kansas City, Missouri to strengthen his regional position. In December of 2015, they opened in another smaller market in Texas that has a large commuter population.
More Than Just a Bike
Shane continues to look for opportunities to expand what he believes is a very scalable business model. In the meantime, Bike Waiter has carved out a substantial niche in corporate catering in its flagship market. He will be opening up delivery services to a medical center outside of downtown San Antonio in 2016.
Speaking of the office lunch niche, Shane explains that the focus really sets him apart from other apps that are geared toward one or two people ordering from their couch at home. “[Our customers] really want to be able to talk to someone before they drop $1,000 on lunch to make sure it’s going to be right,” he says. “We have advanced ordering features for pre-ordering even if the restaurant isn’t open. We can do group ordering within an office where one person starts and facilitates the order and then everyone involved gets an email inviting them to the order.”
Speaking of his growing competition, Shane defines three different models. The first is a courier model where the customer calls a restaurant, places an order, and the restaurant hires a courier to deliver it. Another model is one where the courier acts as an extension of the customer, goes to the restaurant, places the order for them, and then delivers it. “We are neither,” says Shane.
Instead, Bike Waiter is a restaurant marketing service. “We partner with the restaurants, take their menus and use our marketing skills to go out and find them new customers,” says Shane. “Our job is to generate sales for that restaurant.”
Confident in his unique model, Shane sees growth ahead. “The nice thing about the industry is that there is a lot of pie to go around,” he says. “Most people still pick up the phone to place delivery orders. There’s a lot of room to continue to grow in this space.”
He also welcomes the growing competition. “As more people come in, more people are aware of services like this and then they can pick their favorite one.” He looks back on 2011 when he first got started and says people were “clueless.”
Today, Bike Waiter has a little over 30 employees in addition to contracted delivery service people. “A lot of them ride full time,” says Shane. “We’ve got a waiting list of riders who want to ride with us.”
Compared to other services which rely on car drivers for deliveries, Shane says the bike brings something special to the business. “We’re the cool kids in town,” he says. “We pioneered this delivery business.”
Shane says it’s not uncommon for Bike Waiter riders to do 40-50 miles a day to delivery food. “They are in great shape. They do it day in and day out, in rain and all types of weather. The car delivery services can’t compete.”
When Bike Waiter’s riders are delivering food you can often find them at headquarters working on their bikes, or out leading group rides for fun. “The bikes really bind our riders together.”