Cold weather warms appetite for hearty broths and home delivery

Eric Hanson wasn’t sure what impact the cold snap would have on his business, but frigid temperatures brought out customers in droves to the Prairie Noodle Shop on 124th Street.

App based food delivery services thrive in cold weather

Eric Hanson, general manager and executive chef of Prairie Noodle Shop, right, with staff Kevin Ostapek, middle, and Darrah Jenkins, left, during busy lunchtime rush. (Kim Trynacity/CBC)

Eric Hanson wasn't sure what impact the cold snap would have on his business, but frigid temperatures brought out customers in droves to the Prairie Noodle Shop on 124th Street.

"As the cold weather came, so did the customers," said Hanson, executive chef and general manager of the restaurant, which specializes in hearty broths and thick, slurp-worthy noodles.

Hanson said the most surprising turnout was last week, on one of the coldest nights of the year, when the thermometer dipped to –27 C.

"We had 32 people waiting in line outside the door, shivering," Hanson said. "And as soon as we opened the door, they all piled in as quickly as possible. And it kept going all day."

Equally important to serving customers inside was getting orders out the door through an app-based home delivery service.

An influx of new food home delivery services late in the year gave Hanson a choice of companies. He said at one point he was approached by seven different operations in early December, each vying for his business. Hanson opted to use Uber Eats and newcomer Foodora.

'Like the patio we don't have'

"It's like the patio we don't have," said Hanson, who considers a home delivery service an "extra table" in his 32-seat restaurant.

By using a home delivery service, Hanson said he doesn't have to absorb the additional costs associated with having a dedicated car and driver.

"When you have something like Uber Eats, they can come in, they give us the app, they drop it off, they pick it up. It just enables us to do more than the 32 (seats)."

The cold weather was also a boon for flourishing food delivery companies in the Edmonton market.

Edmonton was the second busiest market for Skip The Dishes during the holiday season, says marketing director Kendall Bishop. (Skip The Dishes)

Kendall Bishop is director of marketing for SkipTheDishes, the Winnipeg-based pioneer in tech food home delivery. She said as the temperature drops, the company sees a "general uptick" in business.

The recent cold snap was a case in point.

The holiday season, which coincided with the recent cold snap, resulted in a four-fold increase in orders in Edmonton for the week, compared to the same week the previous year, making the city the second-busiest market in Canada, said Bishop.

"New Years Day 2018 was our busiest day ever in Edmonton," she said.

Many customers are now choosing to order directly from the mobile device app, added Bishop.

Citing proprietary reasons in the hyper-competitive market that now exists in the tech food-delivery business, the company declined to say which city was its busiest location.

Tech food-delivery systems contract private couriers to deliver meals from subscribed restaurants directly to customers. An app gives customers the convenience of ordering from a wide variety of restaurants, directly from their mobile device. 

The delivery systems are filling a void especially for smaller restaurants that may not have the ability to take on their own delivery service, said Mark Von Shellwitz, western vice-president for Restaurants Canada.

Restaurants still struggling

The nationwide popularity, said von Schellwitz, comes as no surprise.

"It's fitting that trend which we've seen a lot in recent years where people want more and more convenience, and it's that home meal replacement market that seems to be growing. And certainly these delivery app services fit right into that trend."

That "extra bit of flexibility," von Schellwitz said, could help as Alberta restaurateurs continue to claw their way back from the economic downturn.

"There's been a little bit of a turnaround from the severe recession," he said. "But many of them are still struggling just to break even."

Edmontonians' favourite restaurants to order from through SkipTheDishes this holiday season included national chains such as Famoso, The Burger's Priest, and Fatburger, and local Edmonton spots Swiss Donair and Oodle Noodle, Bishop said.