I have spent the last 11 months riding out the pandemic in my home country of Barbados. While Barbados focuses heavily on promoting its 166 square miles of natural beauty, the island severely lacks investments in digital capabilities. Of course, when the pandemic became a global crisis, this lack of digital infrastructure only exacerbated the stress. With no option of Amazon deliveries and only very basic online grocery ordering consisting of customers emailing their lists to stores for staff to manual pick items, it is no wonder that existing systems were overwhelmed, and major frustration and panic mounted among the nation’s approximately 300,000 inhabitants. However, one well-known Barbadian quick service and fast casual restaurant chain stood out as a winner: Chefette.
Chefette restaurants (https://chefette.com) is Barbados’ largest quick service restaurant with 15 locations across the island. The restaurant chain, which was founded in 1972, has become a national favourite and has even attracted the attention of celebrities. 
So how exactly did Chefette differentiate itself? By focusing heavily on investments in technology and digital innovations well before the pandemic, Chefette was able to rapidly adjust and cater to the needs of the Barbadian population during the unprecedented global pandemic. Beginning in 2013, Chefette became the first company in Barbados to upgrade to digital indoor and outdoor drive-through menu signage. , This investment has enabled Chefette to quickly and easily change its menu and the company has fully leveraged its investment by regularly offering limited edition specials, something that would have been much more difficult to execute using the previous static menus.
While Chefette is a private, family-owned business with limited public information available, from my perspective as a customer, there seems to be a fully digital back-end operation. Inside the restaurant, orders are clearly visible to staff on screens and each order is colour coded based on how long customers have been waiting.
A few years ago, Chefette also enhanced its website to offer customers the option of ordering online, making it one of the only local companies to have a robust e-commerce option. From the onset of the pandemic Chefette leveraged its e-commerce platform to quickly channel orders online and seamlessly pivot to curbside pickup using QR code technology. As a result, Chefette captured a large share of the takeout market.
The boldest move that Chefette made during the pandemic was to invest in a fleet of delivery vehicles so that it could launch an island-wide delivery service in July of 2020. ,  The investment came at a time of major uncertainty with Barbados’ primary industry of tourism temporarily wiped out and no end of the pandemic in sight. But I think the risk was worth it. With many restaurants closed and customers less willing to choose dine-in options compounded by a large percentage of the population working from home, Chefette’s new delivery offering quickly became a hit. In fact, the easily-recognized bright yellow delivery fleet is possibly the most robust delivery service on the island. (See the delivery launch video which had over 30,000 views here)
Without international options like Uber Eats and DoorDash, Chefette had to choose whether to use similar local delivery options like Hopscotch, which is used by global franchises Burger King and Subway, or invest in its own delivery fleet. I believe that Chefette chose the latter option to avoid co-innovation risk which could prove problematic. Given Chefette’s desire to quickly scale the delivery offering, there would have been uncertainty and lack of control around third-party delivery services ability to maintain Chefette’s high standards. By investing in a fleet of delivery vehicles and developing data-driven route optimization programs that directly connect to Chefette’s online e-commerce website and internal systems, Chefette can fully control the end-to-end customer journey.
Another huge advantage of leveraging an internal proprietary delivery network is that Chefette has full ownership of the data which will help to improve route optimization algorithms, increase the success of existing products and specials, develop new specials and potentially offer targeted advertisements to customers based on their order history.
With the pandemic still a huge threat to Barbados, Chefette’s investment in digital technology has put the company in a position to deliver superior value to its customers and to maintain its high-quality standards.
When the pandemic subsides, and life gradually returns to normal I believe that Chefette’s investment in digital technology and delivery services will continue to set them apart. Chefette has proven that even in the most difficult times, the company goes above and beyond to satisfy customers and offer excellent service. By being a first mover in the delivery space, it is likely that customers will come not only to expect but to rely on delivery for some portion of their weekly meals. Chefette will be at the forefront of customers’ minds when they need a meal delivery option. Additionally, the investment in digital will enable Chefette to leverage data and analytics and possibly incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into their day-to-day operations. Perhaps, the advancements that Chefette has made will even enable the company to expand to other countries and create more value for itself and its customers.