Don't want pizza, subs or Chinese next time you order out for food?
Try a steak dinner, with all the trimmings. Or maybe crab cakes or lobster.
You can satisfy your palate -- without bothering with cooking, parking hassles, traffic or baby-sitters -- by calling Take-Out Trolley.
The service delivers meals from the menus of 10 Harford County restaurants to doorsteps in the Bel Air and Abingdon areas within an hour.
Jackie Skhal launched Take-Out Trolley in March after seeing an article about similar delivery services in Entrepreneur magazine.
Mrs. Skhal, then a homemaker who settled in Harford after a tour of Army duty at Aberdeen Proving Ground, sent letters about her idea to county restaurants. She got only one response, from Robert Edelstein, owner of The Red Fox Restaurant in Bel Air.
"He loved the idea," Mrs. Skhal recalls.
Encouraged, she visited other area restaurants to try to get them to sign on.
"Telling the other owners that Red Fox had joined our service was an important tool," she says. "In a matter of a few weeks, we had enough restaurants to start up."
Now, seven months after launching her service, business is booming. On a recent weekend, Take-Out Trolley delivered hot meals to a record 450 customers, who pay a $3 service charge along with the cost of their meal.
In addition to the Red Fox, customers can order from the Briarwood Inn in Fallston and these Bel Air restaurants: Georgetown North Restaurant & Tavern, Sizzler, Fisherman's Pride, Hard Times Cafe, Subway, Buontempo Brothers, China Express and the Silver Palace. Uncle George's in Bel Air, closed for renovations, plans to participate when it reopens.
Mrs. Skhal, who receives a percentage of the cost of each meal, is negotiating with restaurants in the Edgewood area.
"There are enough excellent restaurants along U.S. 40 to justify expansion," she says. "It will mean increasing drivers and order takers, but I feel the potential is worth it."
Customers' orders are entered into a computer, then the restaurant is contacted by phone. One of eight "mobile waiters" are dispatched by radio to the restaurant to pick up the order, in thermally insulated bags. The "waiters" then deliver the order and collect payment by cash, check or credit card.
The independent contractors, who make two or three deliveries an hour during lunch and dinner, are compensated by keeping the $3 service charge and any tips.
Along with their first order, customers get menus for all participating restaurants.
Before starting the business, Mrs. Skhal says she called restaurants participating in a similar service in Montgomery County. "Every one of them made favorable comments and encouraged me to give it a try," she says.
She initially planned to locate in Towson, but Montgomery County
restaurant owners told her she should start her business where she lived.
"They said that Harford County was a growing area and that there were enough good restaurants to make it work," Mrs. Skhal says.
One Take-Out Trolley customer, Emmanuel Posposil of Abingdon,
says he and his wife turned to the service recently when their schedules allowed little time to cook for visiting relatives.
"By the time we showered and set the table, our meal was at the door," Mr. Posposil says. "We wouldn't hesitate to use the service again."