Since Sept. 1, a small army wearing Kelly green shirts and caps, hotbags in hand, has been swarming the eateries of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. And they aren’t the latest fundraising pub crawl team.
They’re Bite Squad third-party food delivery drivers, busily picking up Leroy’s fried chicken, Celtic Ray fish and chips, even steaming bowls of pho from Pho Saigon and Mint Asian Cuisine.
On Nov. 16, they’ll add the likes of Lighthouse Grill’s Mussels Reichard and Gold Rush BBQ’s Mother Lode Combos to their delivery rosters.
“We had such great reception in Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda that we’ve expanded to cover the entire west coast of Florida,” said Bite Squad media relations manager Liz Sniegocki.
“In entering a new market, we look for a nice dining scene with lots of variety. We also look at the population density — plenty of folks to keep our drivers busy with orders. Both of those boxes got checked off in the Englewood-Venice area, and we also had restaurants and customers asking when we’d be there.”
Bite Squad will deliver from about 100 Venice and Englewood restaurants, including such local favorites as Gold Rush BBQ, The Star Thai and Sushi, Zeke’s Uptown Bar & Grill, Ephesus Mediterranean Grill, Plaza Mexico, Mama Leone’s, Prime Time Steak & Spirits, Eggs-traordinary Café, Stefano’s Family Restaurant and Comadre’s Mexican Restaurant, as well as popular chains like Chili’s, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and Bob Evans.
Delivery is available within a 7-mile radius of participating restaurants, a distance that Bite Squad finds optimal for fast, fresh arrival.
And more and more households are willing to pay their favorite restaurants to come to them.
“People are ordering for convenience, plain and simple,” said Sniegocki. “They’re also technology savvy. People of all generations are getting accustomed to ordering online — whether items from Amazon or food through an app like ours.”
Bite Squad — a six-year-old, Minneapolis-based online and mobile food delivery service — has experienced explosive growth, now partnering with over 10,000 restaurants in 350 cities and nearly 20 states. Since late 2016, it has spread to 50 Florida communities, focusing on many areas that didn’t have third-party delivery before.
Already well established in Sarasota, Bradenton and Fort Myers, Bite Squad will be the first third-party delivery service in Englewood. Another service — DoorDash — is also available in Venice.
Using an employee model unique in the delivery business, Bite Squad avoids independent contractors, instead hiring driver-employees who are compensated with a guaranteed wage. They’re professional, trained, uniformed and equipped with delivery bags that keep food hot or cold and fresh.
When it launches in a new area, the service normally hires 20 to 30 local drivers. At this point, 230 of them are crisscrossing Sarasota, Bradenton, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Venice and Englewood.
Each partner restaurant receives a tablet, where customer orders arrive from the Bite Squad app or website. The eatery provides a pickup time, which cues the driver, and the app keeps customers updated on arrival time up until delivery.
In the app, customers pay menu price, plus taxes, fees, a suggested tip and a delivery fee ranging from $2.99 to $4.99 based on distance. Unlike Uber Eats, Bite Squad doesn’t charge “surge pricing,” increased fees during high-delivery prime times.
Bite Squad also offers a monthly subscription service which pays for unlimited deliveries. “It’s like the Netflix of food,” said Sniegocki.
Bite Squad is waiving delivery fees for a year for all local customers who order during the Venice/Englewood grand opening weekend (Nov. 16-18). Customers eligible for the “Free Delivery for a Year” promotion will receive a one-year complimentary subscription service membership. To receive the complimentary membership, Venice and Englewood area customers must place a delivery order through the service between 10:30 a.m. Nov. 16 and 10:00 p.m. Nov. 18. Visit https://go.bitesquad.com/venice- englewood/ for details.
Bite Squad offers a clear advantage for stores like Venice’s Gold Rush BBQ.
Co-owner Bob Overholser said, “I’m very excited. I hired a delivery company about 16 years ago, but the concept wasn’t really accepted at that time. People now seem to understand the cost and also the convenience. Bite Squad’s service model is the standard for others.”
In return for an increase in delivery sales which they wouldn’t otherwise see, restaurants pay a percentage to Bite Squad on each order, for which Bite Squad handles all accounting.
Even eateries that rely heavily on their own deliveries, like Englewood’s Hungry Howie’s, are seeking the incremental sales and wider reach promised by Bite Squad. Hungry Howie’s manager Alex Saaby, who’d just processed her first order, said, “It’s awesome. We can deliver outside our zone now.”
To learn more or to download the Bite Squad mobile app, visit bitesquad.com.