Updated: Apr 15
Since the pandemic hit over 2 years ago, the slow-to-adapt/adopt restaurant industry has been consumed by the latest internet of things - gig delivery companies - UberEats, DoorDash -GrubHub. One could say restaurants are falling like, well...dominos.
Only Domino’s - the architect of fast food delivery - isn’t falling for them. In fact, the company has emphatically refused a test drive - much less even allowing a cursory kick of the tires. The perennial delivery icon gives no quarter to their would-be surrogates while other exclusive takeout/delivery chains pay a premium to surrender it’s business to their suiting foes.
So why isn’t the pizza company that started it all - playing nice with others? While one could argue McDonalds has certainly taken to gig delivery like MSG to a canola oil French fry; the same could be said about the company that’s goal was to overtake the mammoth burger companies number of units back in the 1980s.
Over 50 years ago Dominos began a quest to make 30 minute delivery as much a staple in American pop culture as McDonalds did the drive-thru. In fact, the famous red-white-and blue three dot logo is arguably as synonymous with all things Americana as as the Golden Arches is with trans-fats.
The answer’s simple. Pride. Dominos is the harbinger of quick home delivery; the standard by which all restaurants attempting the same are judged. It’s whispered among the Dominoid faithful that when Tom Monaghan opened his first store he couldn’t afford phones and customers had to come in to place the order and then return home to wait for delivery. Supply/demand meet demand/supply.
Such was the passion of the delivery process and the visionary who dreamt it that over the decades to follow the company focused more on delivery than the product itself (not incidentally).
Find any Dominoid from back in the 1980s and ask what the company was about and with a sense of wistful awe their eyes would glaze over, they’ll stare off into space and spin yarns of 400 pie hours, backed-up Bakers Pride, Blodgett or Middleby Marshall ovens, sweat and flour encrusted dough slappers, customers with stopwatches at doors, delivery to malls, houses and even cars and bands like, Timbuk3, The Police, and Depeche Mode the sound of the times.
Today a 30 minute window for delivery of anything (including Dominos) seems a distant memory. Tech has increased exponentially over the years while service has decreased substantially over the years.
GIGs happened. It was inevitable. Everybody is delivering everything on what’s been coined a side hustle. It’s so pervasive that even couples are turning on apps and hitting the road for an hour on date night to score extra cash that determines if they dine at Wendy’s or Chipotle. Gigs ripped through the already thin driver pool like a Covid virus in a nursing home.
The proverbial rubber hit the road more than ten years ago when a new concept called Uber showed up. People marveled after the Uber driver and spoke with great aplomb about their Uber (a strange new noun/verb/adjective that meant a car-driver-experience thingy that the rider relished, if for only a short time). Stories began filling blog pages about the latest addition to our lexicon.
What happened to their Uber? How clean or dirty was the Uber? What kind of vehicle was their Uber? "Are you going to Uber there?" "Shall we share an Uber?" "I’m gunna Uber over later…come with?"
Social Media videos of insolent passengers and outrageous acts committed in the apparent - no longer privacy - of the back seat of their Uber were viewed curbside - on cellphones, by strangers worldwide - some while waiting on their own Uber.
Not to be outdone, Drivers, (having their own Hold my beer moments), were driven to their wits end dashcamed themselves kicking their drunken passengers to the curb (literally-in some cases) and then shared them across Facebook groups from Alameda to Atlanta.
Unbelievable and outrageous (thumbs up and a follow would be most appreciated) as these videos were, they were old hat to the grizzled pizza driver who watched with mild indifference at how shocked the public was by their own behavior. Pizza drivers had been coping with much worse for decades - but for the cellphone it never happened.
Drunken customers; spoiled, clueless, stiffing ivy-league coeds, robberies, carjackings, horny housewives pulling a midday full monty, all on display for the hapless pizza driver. Exhibitionist coital couples, and proud morning woodsmen eager to show their definition of meat lover were legendary fodder in pizza yarns for decades.
Combine any two of those with the occasional pie delivery to a freshly evicted tenant sitting roadside on their sofa or the occasional customer in handcuffs in full arrest; theres always the delivery to the infectious disease labs at the CDC in the 1980s where everyone but the driver is masked up - and you have the perfect trifecta.
The benefits of switching to gig work were becoming clear. The gig car was leaving the lot with a parade of vehicles and their drivers in tow. The ever independent and opportunistic delivery driver saw the graffiti on the wall like a Klieg spotlit Bat-signal hanging over Gotham. They tore off their name-tags, threw away their mesh hats, stepped out of their sauce-stained two dollar thrift store Salvation Army issue polyester pants, cut their last onion, folded their last pizza box and joined the gig ranks.
Oh it was slow going at first. But it was also cool runnings. And it was catching on. No more prep. No over-enthused, first-day, know-it-all pimple faced manager trainee that had control over the drivers money. No sir. No more corporate virtue signaling platitudes like Hustle on your feet and not on the street! by clueless, once-monthly visiting supervisors.
No more deck scrubbing, pizza slapping, phone answering, mandatory cleaning parties, uniforms, closing cleaning shifts, or worthless time-draining poorly mic’d up ridiculous corporate training videos. No more schedules. No more clocking in. No more hair cuts. No maś, non plus.
The delivery position evolved. It became what it was supposed to be all along, independent and entrepreneurial. And freedom rang like a 6th period dismissal high school bell.
Meanwhile Uber and their Sandhill Road constituents plotted their exit strategy. Their VCs and Angels finally gunna get rewarded for their vigilance. Good things come…amirite? What do I see just over the hill? Those driverless robot thingamajigs coming en masse! No drivers, no labor, no problem. The perfect business plan. The autonomous vehicle came through!. The future's so bright!
Until it isn’t.
The music stopped as fast as Timbuk3’s singles hits discography.
Uber found out over time what those of us in the delivery business had known for decades. We learned from the first issue of Dominos' Pepperoni Press - that drones and robots fresh off the boat from Shenzhen - or driverless cars made right there in Motor City - not far from Dominos world headquarters - weren’t gunna slice it. The final mile had to be driven.
You see, this ain’t Dominos first picnic. They’ve been doin this delivery thing for a minute and while the drones and robots and driverless cars are novel ideas and they’re fun to play with and buzz worthy for all the execs out on the golf course, the good ol' boys out at Domino’s Farms knew they were an operationally driven company. They weren’t tech. They weren’t food.
They were, and are, a delivery company that happens to deliver food (much like McDonalds is a real estate company that, by the way, sells burgers) one of the most efficient in the world - it turns out. Also turns out that Domino’s believed in hiring from within. Even the good ol boys in the network had to work in stores to advance. That’s how top operational companies roll. Don’t believe me? Google UPS.
Valuable…and stubborn - that experience thing is. With an apparent learning curve the size of Lombard Street, Uber and their peers cost themselves hundreds of millions - if not billions of dollars to learn.
Uber and GrubHub fancy themselves tech companies and prolly think they’re the smartest kids in the room. Thing they never realized was they were operational companies the moment the boots hit the ground.
Uber sold its 1B electric vehicle company for a loss. In fact, the share holders demanded it, GrubHub developed a weak sauce GPS app of it’s own. None of the players in the space realized that consumer grade GPS borrowed from Google doesn’t make you a tech company anymore than wish casting makes you a driverless taxi/delivery company.
So there it is. Gig companies onboarded tens of thousands of drivers thinking they would use them until their robotic cars were ready. Churn and burn I believe the term is. They treated drivers as expendable and committed a brain numbing industry average 70% turnover rate! Astounding on any scale.
How did it happen?
The gigs were operating companies based on algorithms designed to interact, not with drivers, but with other computers - no human consideration needed. They built a system for autonomous vehicles and humans showed up. What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, back at 30 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive, the chefs at Dominos Farms test kitchens are rolling out new menu items every year - but not listed on that menu is Dominos oldest recipe for success, their very brand, remains their delivery.
And I don’t believe they’ll ever part ways with the very identity that was established in a tiny delivery store front in Ypsilanti, Michigan that couldn’t afford the basic technology then to take an order with, a phone.
My bet is that Dominos can resist what is coming but much like the horse and buggy, the printing press, silent pictures and on and on, they too will capitulate as their contemporaries have already done.
Or maybe they’ll just become the next Uber?