How Santini's Grew a Profitable Delivery Business with DoorDash

Learn how this restaurant chain in the suburban Washington, D.C. area built a thriving delivery business with DoorDash.

9 min read
Mx - Santinis - family owners

Disclaimer: This merchant was compensated for their participation in this testimonial. 

Founded 2003, Santini's New York Style Deli is a family-owned restaurant run by President Bob "Santini" Lesando and his sons Dan and Matt. Lesando's grandson also works at Santini's, so the team spans three generations.

Before his restaurant career, Lesando was running a successful IT business and got an opportunity to take over a friend's deli in Sterling, Virginia. He changed the name, revamped the menu, and soon Santini's took off. Today, they have seven locations throughout northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. 

"Most people open a restaurant because they like to cook or they like to eat, but often they don't realize it's a business," Lesando notes. "I had a lot of experience running a business, managing people, and negotiating with vendors, so once we started, I knew we were going to open up multiple locations and turn it into something bigger." 

With an expansive menu of more than 50 sandwiches, pizzas, calzones, and more, Santini's uses only top-quality ingredients. "So many people come up to us and say, 'Your steak and cheese is the best,'" says Lesando. "And it's not by accident. It's because we buy the best meats and cheeses, and our bread is made fresh by a local Italian bakery." 

Mx - Santinis - pizza dough staff

The challenge: Ensuring a profitable delivery business

As a suburban restaurant, Santini's convenient parking and large patios made it a popular place to dine in. But since the pandemic, Lesando found that customers aren't eating at their restaurant as much as they used to. 

"That's just the nature of the consumer today — they want everything delivered," says Lesando. "It's become so easy to click a few buttons and all of a sudden your food is at your door." 

Santini's began partnering with third-party delivery companies in 2019, and today off-premise orders are a key part of their business. Lesando prefers outsourcing delivery operations over trying to manage it in-house — especially with seven locations. "If you think you can hire your own drivers and do delivery on your own, good luck!" he jokes. "I've investigated it myself and it doesn't work. I'd have to have six drivers with six vehicles, insurance, and employment issues for each restaurant." 

Knowing that third-party delivery is a key part of Santini's long-term business plan, Lesando needed a way to continue to drive steady growth without sacrificing profitability. 

The solution: Making the most of DoorDash

Santini's partnered with DoorDash in early 2020. As deliveries ramped up during the pandemic, Lesando noticed the growth on DoorDash and wanted to make the most of the partnership. 

Bob Lesando

"The big advantage of DoorDash is they're reliable, they're fast, there's always a driver available, and the drivers are very considerate of my team which is extremely important. And if we have an issue, we have access to someone at DoorDash who can take care of the problem for us." 

Bob Lesando, President, Santini's

In addition to offering delivery and pickup on DoorDash Marketplace, they set up commission-free online ordering on the Santini's website with Storefront. There is no monthly software fee for Storefront; instead, restaurants pay payment processing fees per order.

Mx - Santinis - Storefront screenshot

Santini's custom online ordering page via DoorDash Storefront.

"Storefront has worked out very well," said Lesando. "Being right on our own website is a nice feature because people can order delivery and it's seamless. They get a delivery from DoorDash, but the sense is it's a delivery from Santini's, and it's a better business deal for us." 

They also use DashPass, which helps Santini's reach high-value DoorDash customers who subscribe for $0 delivery fees and reduced service fees. And they've used Promotions to target customers on DoorDash Marketplace and Storefront with discounts or offers for their menu items. Santini's is also looking forward to testing out some of DoorDash's newer products, such as Store Loyalty, which drives repeat orders from DoorDash customers. 

"We've taken advantage of just about everything that you guys have offered," said Lesando. In fact, Lesando even turns to DoorDash when he orders delivery food for his own family. "I actually use DoorDash exclusively because you guys have become our brand." 

Results: Balancing volume and profitability

Today, as more consumers opt for convenience, delivery accounts for 43% of Santini's overall sales. When Santini's first partnered with DoorDash in 2020, another third-party platform was driving 70% of their delivery sales. But DoorDash steadily grew each year, and now is Santini's top-performing partner, generating 75% of their delivery sales — which translates to one-third of their overall sales. 


of Santini's overall sales are from DoorDash


of Santini's delivery sales are from DoorDash

The high volume of DoorDash sales has also helped Santini's profitability. "It's a balancing act," notes Lesando. "The volume has to go up to offset the cost of delivery — and that's been happening. Our DoorDash sales have been growing 5-10% each year." 

When a partnership is working, Lesando likes to be loyal to his vendors. "Once we get a vendor that's doing a good job for us, I sit down with them and say, 'I don't want to change, I don't want to negotiate with someone else. I want to make this partnership the best it can be, so let's just continue to grow together,'" Lesando explains. "That's been one of the best parts of working with DoorDash." 

How Santini's sets up their DoorDash operations for success

Since launching the DoorDash partnership, Lesando and his team have taken steps to optimize the delivery business and take their off-premise sales to the next level. 

Mx - Santinis - steak and cheese sandwich

1. Use high-quality menu photos 

Menu photos are an important factor in driving delivery sales. DoorDash offers all restaurant partners a free professional photoshoot to capture authentic, eye-catching photos of their menu items. "That's a big deal, because we have a very extensive menu and it's not an easy task to get a photo of everything," said Lesando. 

Bob Lesando

"The pictures are perfect for our website. You see our steak and cheese oozing on a plate and it makes you want to order it immediately."

Bob Lesando, President, Santini's

2. Review pickup processes

The Santini's team also optimized processes for how to prepare and package delivery orders. 

"For a while, we just put to-go orders at the end of the counter, and people would sometimes pick up the wrong bags and leave," Lesando recalled. Now, they have a designated spot in their restaurant for Dashers to pick up delivery orders. 

Mx - Santinis - Dasher handoff

3. Strengthen Dasher relations

Lesando notes the importance of building relationships with Dashers: "One of the main reasons for our success with DoorDash is we have great managers and employees who interact with Dashers every day," he said. "Our team makes an effort to get to know the drivers, so when they walk in the door, we have their order ready and hand it to them. It's very seamless."  

4. Choose high-quality, cost-effective packaging

A few years ago, Santini's invested in branded to-go packaging. But due to supply chain issues and inflation, they've also tested using generic, high-quality takeout containers that cost less but still ensure their food arrives the way it's supposed to. 

Growing sustainably with delivery

In the last few years, Lesando has seen customers evolve. "I believe the pandemic changed a lot of the way we think," he says. "People will continue to ask for delivery, so if you're going to run a restaurant it has to be part of your business."

Bob Lesando

"Delivery is here to stay. Companies like Amazon have absolutely paved the way for door-to-door everything, and that's carried itself into the restaurant business. So you need to figure that part into your business plan." 

Bob Lesando, President, Santini's

While he's considering opening a new location in the future, Lesando plans to focus on growing his existing Santini's restaurants for now. "We have to take care of the seven locations that are running now and not sacrifice anything to expand," he says. "We have a very good business model for the times, and we've been through everything the last 20 years."


Sara DeForest
Sara DeForest


logo subscribe to blog

Subscribe for insights to help you run a great business, delivered weekly to your inbox.