Osceola-based DineIn approaches three decades of bringing food to clients in Elkhart area
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to restaurant closures to slow the spread of the virus, those homebound turned to delivery services to keep food on their tables.
With almost three decades of experience, Osceola-based DineIn was up for the challenge. Some restaurant owners turned to DoorDash or Uber Eats to get their meals to customers to help them stay open. But DineIn also saw an uptick in orders and played a role in helping local restaurants stay in business.
During the early weeks of the pandemic, Joshua Railton, owner of DineIn, said his company’s residential orders were up 22%.
“When you have the entire delivery areas staying home all day, every day, you’re just going to have an increase of people wanting to order in,” he said.
DineIn launched in 1993, under the late Larry Laperriere, to plenty of skepticism, Railton said.
The idea of a service delivering meals from mom-and-pop restaurants was entirely new and needed time to build a following. But the new service meant restaurants could reach out to customers without sacrificing any of the in-store operations, Railton said.
“Any pioneer in any industry, especially when you’re starting something new, is going to have naysayers,” Railton said. “I think that’s the problem DineIn solved, (because) all restaurants have to do is do what they do best, make food. … There’s really no risk (to the restaurant).”
Railton began as a DineIn driver in 1998 and worked his way up through the company before taking “a brief hiatus” in 2012. He returned to buy the company in 2013 after Laperriere died.
Railton says DineIn’s business methods have remained consistent since its founding.
The company signs contracts with restaurants to deliver their food in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties and southwestern Michigan.
Uniformed DineIn drivers are trained to check orders in transparent containers; otherwise, restaurant workers must open container lids to prove to the drivers the food orders are correct.
Unlike the major meal delivery services, Railton says his company focuses on hiring the right drivers for the job, and they tend to stay much longer than at other services.
“We’re just basically trying to get a feel for the driver applicants’ desire to really do a good job,” Railton said.
In this second stint with DineIn, Railton instituted more technology to take orders from customers and work with restaurants. But strategic planning, a constant of good business, remains critical to DineIn’s success, he said.
While the restaurant food delivery side of DineIn’s business increased from the pandemic, its catering business has suffered. Places like Notre Dame University and other businesses are not catering lunches or events.
Grocery delivery was another avenue opened by Railton in 2016. DineIn has an exclusive delivery contract with Martin’s Super Markets, a chain of 21 grocery stores across northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan.
“For me, the point was to also keep our drivers busy year-round,” Railton said. “When it’s springtime, we slow down a little bit when people want to go out more, (but) when it’s snowing, we’re going to be busy.”
Krista Wendt, director of marketing for Martin’s Super Markets, said Martin’s is “fortunate to have a partner like DineIn to ensure its customers’ needs are met.”
She said DineIn’s entire staff, from its delivery drivers to its dispatch personnel, have the same mindset as a Martin’s employee: customer service is their top priority.
“DineIn is always willing to go out of their way to serve a customer in need and have best-in-class processes in place to ensure groceries are delivered in a safe and efficient manner,” Wendt said.