Disclaimer: This merchant was compensated for their participation in this testimonial.
Josh Wolkon's restaurant career began in 1997 with the opening of Vesta, which was a pioneer of the Denver dining scene and set the stage for the two concepts Josh co-owns with his wife Jenny today: Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve. These restaurants are right next door to each other in Denver's eclectic Uptown neighborhood and operate under the Secret Sauce Food & Beverage restaurant group.
Steuben's, which opened in 2006, serves American regional classics — diverse comfort foods like a Maine lobster roll, green chile cheeseburger, and hot chicken sandwich — in a mid-century modern diner. Ace Eat Serve, which opened in 2012, offers a modern take on Asian cuisine in an expansive indoor/outdoor event space featuring Denver's only dedicated ping pong emporium. The common thread? Delicious food, beautiful aesthetics, well-cared for staff, and a convivial atmosphere.
The vibrant patio at Ace Eat Serve
Colorado native Emily Biederman joined the Secret Sauce family in 2006 and has held many roles, from floor manager to administrative assistant and now COO. She shares why the team chose DoorDash as their exclusive third-party platform, and the benefits of their strong partnership.
Providing the same guest experience for dine-in and delivery
The Secret Sauce team was initially hesitant to sign up for a third-party delivery platform because they didn't want to lose control of the guest experience. Biederman feared that if the food was late or spilled, customers would connect these bad experiences back to Steuben's or Ace Eat Serve.
Eventually, as third-party delivery platforms continued to grow in Colorado, the team saw an opportunity for incremental revenue and signed up with DoorDash in 2016.
"The biggest thing is that DoorDash allows us to get our products into the hands of guests who, for whatever reason, don't want to or can't dine in. We can serve more guests and be a part of people's food stories no matter where they are."
Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve aim to provide delivery customers with an experience that's as close as possible to the dine-in one. "The hope is that as much as we offer to full-service customers is being taken away with diners at home," said Biederman. They needed to make sure their third-party delivery partner would help support that goal.
The Monte Cristo at Steuben's
The decision to go exclusive with DoorDash
Like many restaurants, Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve signed up with multiple third-party delivery platforms during the pandemic. But Biederman found that managing multiple tablets and dealing with different customer service reps during dinner rush resulted in additional headaches and stress for her team. "There was a point where we realized that it just wasn't good on a lot of levels," she recalled.
By the end of 2020, Biederman decided to partner Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve exclusively with DoorDash. Loyalty is part of the Secret Sauce DNA; they've been working with some vendors since opening in 1997. Biederman values open communication and transparency when it comes to their suppliers. "Loyalty is a really big deal to us," she said. "If there's a problem, we talk about it. We don't just jump from one vendor to the next."
For Biederman, the biggest benefits of an exclusive DoorDash partnership include:
1. Negotiated commission rates*
Having an exclusive partnership with DoorDash may result in lower commission rates, which can help improve the profitability of delivery for restaurants. "With exclusivity, we get a rate that works for us," Biederman said.
*Merchant experiences may vary. Exclusive DoorDash partnerships do not always result in lower or negotiated commission rates.
2. Stronger partnership
Working with one third-party platform feels more like a true partnership and unlocks new ways to collaborate. For example, DoorDash sponsored an Ace Eat Serve charity event. "It makes for more of a well-rounded and engaged relationship, rather than just 'Here's my food, there's your fee, now on to the next tablet,'" noted Biederman.
3. Exposure to new products
Biederman works with her account manager to identify DoorDash products to try. "We can test out new services that might be good for us," she explained. For example, Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve have used Promotions during major sports events to stand out on busy delivery days.
4. Dedicated account manager
Exclusive DoorDash partners may get access to a dedicated account manager to help identify new ways for the restaurant to grow. Biederman said of her DoorDash rep: "She simply cannot be beat. She's supportive, communicative, and truly feels like a partner who wants us to succeed."
5. Customer service
When issues do arise, the Secret Sauce team knows how to get in touch with DoorDash support. "DoorDash is really good about making it right. If I say a Dasher didn't show up and we had to remake this food, DoorDash will reimburse us," Biederman said.
Biederman values this partnership and the benefits of exclusivity so much that she stayed exclusive with DoorDash even after another third-party platform attempted to win back Steuben's with a signing bonus.
Inside the authentic, unique dining room at Steuben's
Driving sales beyond the dining room
DoorDash has helped the Secret Sauce brands grow sales, reach new customers, and set up efficient pickup and delivery ordering. "Without a doubt there is absolutely more revenue," said Biederman. "Without DoorDash we wouldn't have those additional orders."
In 2023, 7.5% of Steuben's total sales were driven by DoorDash. "We make money on DoorDash. Not as much as dine-in, but we wouldn't do delivery if it wasn't working," said Biederman.
Biederman also points out that delivery allows them to reach beyond their dining room: "At the end of the day, if you have a full restaurant and you can still be serving people in addition to your full restaurant, that's an added bonus."
When it comes to third-party delivery platforms, Biederman recommends restaurants go exclusive. "Find a partner you can trust and go with that one," she advised. "You'll be able to leverage that to create a smart partnership with good rates and one tablet."
In early 2023, Biederman partnered with her DoorDash account manager to launch a campaign to increase their average order value. They used Promotions to entice DoorDash customers with a discount once they hit a minimum spend. The team optimized the campaign by increasing the minimum spend and discount. Since its launch, the campaign increased Secret Sauce restaurant group's average order value by 13%, with a Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) of 9X. They also grew new customers by 6% and generated a 32% reorder rate, helping to reach more diners and drive loyalty.
of Steuben's overall sales come from DoorDash
increase in average order value after launching DoorDash Promotions
return on ad spend (ROAS) of the Promotions campaign
Optimizing DoorDash operations for growth and efficiency
The Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve teams took a few steps to improve their delivery operations and make the most of their DoorDash partnership:
Systems and processes: Biederman notes the importance of putting systems in place for to-go orders. They use a KDS system for dine-in, but set up their POS to print all to-go tickets on paper. They then dedicated a portion of their expo line to takeout and delivery orders, with a bagger to put food in the bag, staple the ticket to the order, and double check the items. "We set up systems to be super efficient and make sure we're ready so that when Dashers arrive, the food is packed properly and the order is correct and on time," she said.
POS integration: "Having [DoorDash] integrate into Toast has been a game-changer in terms of efficiency, which is great for labor savings," noted Biederman. Steuben's also leverages the Toast integration with DoorDash Drive, which connects Dashers to fulfill delivery orders from Toast's online ordering system.
Packaging: The team puts a lot of thought into finding the best to-go containers. "Packaging discussions include everything from how fun it looks in the bag, how well it reheats, and if it's liquid tight," explained Biederman. "It continues to be a topic of conversation as companies come up with new containers."
Streamlined delivery menu: Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve don't offer every dish on their delivery menu — only those that travel well and will still be profitable after accounting for the packaging costs and delivery fees. That means despite it being a fan favorite, DoorDash customers can't order the Steuben's Maine lobster roll because, as Biederman notes, "That item is not very well costed."
The Thai shrimp fried rice at Ace Eat Serve
Finding opportunities to thrive in today's environment
Biederman is excited for the future of Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve. "We see there's still a ton of opportunity within the walls of these two buildings, so while there are no plans for additional locations, we will constantly push to expand internally," she said.
That might mean finding new efficiencies, improving their product and service, or adding revenue streams — in addition to their continued focus on culture, philanthropy, and mental health and wellness for the industry.
Biederman also acknowledges the role that delivery will continue to play in restaurants, and in consumers' daily routines.
"Delivery is a service that's become very much a part of people's lives. When I have to work late and my kids are home alone, they DoorDash. It solves a problem in society: how to get food if I don't have time to cook and I don't have time to go to a restaurant, but my kids still need to eat."
While the industry may be struggling today, Biederman underscores the importance of staying optimistic. "Running a restaurant is really hard right now. It's tough but we just have to keep on keeping on," she said. "We have to remain positive, creative, and open-minded to new technologies and new efficiencies — while still holding on to what we believe in."