FACT: Customers are choosing to order food online (To-Go, delivery), rather than spending the time to dine-in at any given restaurant. The process of ordering food online has grown exponentially in the last few years – seeing a 300% faster growth rate compared to eating inside a restaurant. 

With that said, the majority of restaurants have adopted delivery into their business model. This trend only grew as our country made adjustments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many restaurants were forced to shut down their dining rooms, making the option of online orders for delivery absolutely essential in order to stay afloat.  

Developing an in-house delivery service has always come at a price – hence the reason many restaurants did not offer to deliver customer orders prior to the pandemic. From hiring the drivers, to training and the added cost of additional insurance, in-house delivery isn’t always the most cost-effective choice for restaurants looking to evolve with the ever-growing world of abundant food delivery options. 

But wait! There is no need to fear, for 3rd party delivery is here! 

3rd party delivery is an increasingly popular alternative to in-house delivery, providing every restaurant with the opportunity to offer delivery as an option to their customers. These 3rd party delivery platforms give thousands of new customers access to a restaurant’s products, which, in turn, attracts new customers while increasing brand awareness and visibility.

Additionally, for restaurants struggling after being forced to shut down their dining rooms amidst the pandemic, third-party delivery partnerships could be the difference between remaining open and being forced to shut the business down. 

Look, We get it. Introducing a 3rd party delivery platform into your business model can seem overwhelming (scary, even). This is primarily due to the fact that once the customer’s food order leaves your restaurant, it’s seemingly impossible to control what happens from that point on.  

Potential negative reviews pose another threat, and seem to be another reason why some restaurant owners are hesitant to partner with a 3rd party delivery company. You see, when a customer has a bad experience with delivery services, they typically aim their dissatisfaction towards the restaurant  itself, rather than blaming the 3rd party delivery driver who was the one truly responsible for the issue.   

Customers come to expect a certain experience from your restaurant and the brand you’ve built around it – that doesn’t change, regardless of whether they choose to dine-in or have their food delivered. 

So, what’s the solution?

Restaurants can take back control over their food and the overall experience their customers have by bridging the gap that currently exists between restaurants and 3rd party delivery services. As restaurant operators are proactive in advertising their brand, as well as embracing the 3rd party experience, delivery drivers will develop a familiarity with the restaurant’s branding – resulting in drivers who are better equipped to deliver the right message to each customer.  

In this article, we will provide the ultimate guide on how to best take advantage of 3rd-party delivery platforms, so you’re equipped to successfully adapt to changes in the evolving restaurant industry. From securing customer satisfaction and marketing opportunities, to proven strategies – including the easy and direct methods of communication that every restaurant operator should be implementing in order to better manage their 3rd party partners. 

Below, you’ll find:

  • How delivery services are impacting restaurants across the country
  • A look into the mind of consumers, and methods for creating the experience every customer wants
  • Data behind 3rd-party delivery issues, and how to overcome those obstacles 
  • How to own the customer experience and strategically implement 3rd-party delivery in order to get the most out of it 
  • Our 4 concrete steps on extending your brand beyond the walls of your restaurant   

We are confident you’ll find this article useful as you work towards taking advantage of 3rd-party delivery platforms. If you’d like additional help, our team at Ovation would be happy to chat with you, answer any of your questions, and show you how we can help to automate the challenging aspects of the overall guest experience.

Let’s jump right in!


How To Best Take Advantage of 3rd-Party Delivery

A Marketing Opportunity

3rd-party delivery platforms offer a revolutionary service to people from all walks of life! Food delivery is no longer limited to just two options: pizza or chinese. 3rd-party delivery allows consumers to choose from a wide variety of food options, delivered right to their doorstep. 

Needless to say, people love 3rd-party delivery and the number of people using it has grown exponentially in recent years. That said, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of 3rd-party delivery services, especially since they offer an incredible marketing opportunity for restaurants – from major national food chains to small mom & pop shops.  

Thanks to the promotion of local restaurants on 3rd-party platforms, your eatery is being placed in front of eyes that may not have seen it otherwise. 

If you’re struggling to justify some of the commission costs associated with 3rd-party platforms, just know this: It is worth the investment, especially when done correctly. Think of these costs as a part of your customer acquisition – they have the potential to convert new customers into life-long guests, who will surely give you a return on your investment.

Delivering Restaurant Culture & Brand

As previously mentioned, the moment an order leaves your facility and is out for delivery, you lose some control over the customer experience. As a restaurant operator, this prospect can seem daunting. But don’t let that fear prevent you from evolving and adapting to these new changes. We are here to tell you that there are ways to ensure your customers receive the greatest possible experience with 3rd-party delivery!

Before we dive into the tips, tricks and strategies you can use to solidify positive customer experiences when partnering with 3rd-party delivery platforms, it is important we address common concerns business owners face when it comes to incorporating a delivery service. 

3rd-party delivery drivers may not represent the identity of your brand properly, as they may not be familiar with your products. Delivery drivers may lack the same level of loyalty that an in-house delivery driver and brand-centric structure might possess. This can potentially cause a gap to form between your brand and the customers’ experience. 

If a customer has previous first-hand experience with a brand or business, they expect it to be the same regardless if it comes straight to them inside the restaurant or if it comes to their door from a 3rd-party. 

Do not let that scare you away from investing in a partnership with a 3rd-party delivery platform. There are ways in which you can extend the culture of your restaurant, all the way to the doorstep of each and every customer, even when using the services provided by 3rd-party delivery.

The restaurant experience began over 200 years ago, and for the most part, it has remained the same throughout that time. 

Although an increase in the cost of goods over time has resulted in higher prices on menus across the U.S., demand for a wider variety of options opened the door for many international cuisine types to hit the market, and competition has spiked due to the fact that there are more food options to choose from – leading many to upgrade the ambiance of their restaurants in order to keep up with the ever-evolving, user-friendly technology trends. 

However, the core of the restaurant business has remained the same: providing customers with an overall experience they’re willing to pay for, time and time again. 

Delivery, to-go, and takeout are no longer confined to just pizza or Chinese food. Nowadays, you’ll find every type of cuisine can be delivered, ordered to-go, or for takeout. As such, restaurants should embrace this change by partnering with a 3rd-party delivery platform – as doing so is the only way they’ll be able to keep up with today’s customer expectations. 

In order to take full advantage of 3rd-party delivery while staying true to the culture and experience their customers have come to expect, they need to upgrade their technology, just as other industries have.   

Inside the Mind of the Consumer 

In order to understand the mind of the consumer, we must first ask ourselves this: 

What do we know about the average customer? 

For starters, we know that people enjoy, and frequently use, 3rd-party delivery platforms.

Despite the fact that customers frequently report having experienced issues with their online order, the concept continues to grow in popularity. So much so, that 60% of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout at least once a week. As if that weren’t shocking enough, the number of 3rd-party delivery orders continues to increase every day.

In today’s digital age, consumers have come to expect up-to-date technology that’s easy to navigate and user-friendly. Customers are expecting restaurants to be just as technologically advanced as other industries are.  

The Impact

Restaurant operators have reached a crossroads: Remain “stuck in the past” by refusing to evolve with the rest of the industry, or choose to take the road untraveled and adapt to the new 3rd-party delivery concept.  

Lucky for us, there are several companies throughout the years who’ve resisted industry evolution, and several who’ve chosen to adapt to changing times. Let’s take a look at some examples of the outcome that follows each of these routes: 

Blockbuster and Kodak are among the companies who chose to keep at a stand-still, rather than evolve and adapt to keep up with the latest trends, newest technology, and changes in customer demand within their industry.

Adobe, Apple, and Amazon are prime examples of successfully adapting to the ever-changing demands of their customer base, all while continuously evolving alongside any advances in technology – implementing features that improve user experience overall. 

As with any other industry, the restaurant business must accept and adapt to these changing times, as both available technology and customer expectations are evolving.

As you work to improve user experience and meet the demands of your customers by actively evolving within the restaurant industry, you’ll likely see an increase in customer acquisition rates. 

Although building an army of loyal customers is the ultimate goal for most restaurant operators, there’s one worry that cannot be ignored: More customers + implementing 3rd-party delivery = potential increase in reported bad experiences, such as food order mistakes or delivery delays, which often lead to negative reviews. 

Unfortunately, when a customer has a negative experience, they want to be able to discuss said issue with the restaurant they ordered from. Say, for example, tragedy strikes when a 3rd-party delivery driver lets curiosity get the best of them, and ends up delivering a burrito that they’ve taken a bite (or two) of. In such a case, the customer will expect to be able to start a dialogue with you in order to get their problem resolved. 

I’m sure you’ve seen it: An angry customer resorts to slamming a company on Twitter over a poor experience they’ve had that was not handled by customer service and/or they were unable to easily contact the company regarding their complaint. Generally speaking, the customer is more upset over being unable to get in contact with the company, or due to feeling unvalidated (disregarded) by a customer service representative, than they are over their original complaint. 

The result? Eventually, the company (now publicly shamed for the situation), responds to the disgruntled customer by offering a lifetime of chicken sandwiches or something outrageous and likely avoidable.

Bad press doesn’t stop with Twitter, as people spend an average of 7 hours per day on their screens. That means bad reviews can potentially be found on just about any website – from Google reviews to Reddit and Facebook.

Luckily, restaurants aren’t usually the source of heated Twitter blasts. However, it only takes one upset customer to rip your restaurant apart on social media for the review to result in lost customers, lost revenue, lost top-tier ratings, and a damaged reputation.

The good news?

There is now a highly successful solution to this common problem among restaurant operators. You can provide a private outlet, where customers can vent to you directly, rather than blast negative reviews about your business all over public forums, such as Yelp, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, wherever they go to vent openly when they are unable to contact you directly.

Ever since the introduction of live chat (aka “chat with an agent now”, etc) on large websites, consumers have come to expect – even demand – to have an effortless venue to be heard. With these types of live contact channels, you have the ability to keep customer reviews, questions, and/or inquiries private, or allow for their opinions to be seen publicly. 

Did you catch that? YOU get to decide what inquiries are visible to the public, and which are not (private).

Making it simple and easy for your customers to contact and start a dialogue with you is absolutely essential. This is especially true in today’s world, where most interactions happen off-premises, you must have the tools and support to build up your customer relationships digitally.  

Why Third-Party Delivery has Trust Problems

Restaurant operators used to shy away from 3rd party delivery, this is likely due to the lack of control they have over customer orders once they leave the 4 walls of their establishment. 

Although giving up some level of control can be scary, it is necessary in today’s world – as 3rd-party delivery platforms are skyrocketing in popularity and frequency of use by consumers across the U.S. 

A study done by US Foods concluded that “the average American has two food delivery apps on their smartphone, from which they order about three times a month.”

One surefire way to ease the discomfort that may come with hiring a 3rd-party for delivery is to invest in a solution that will bridge the gap between restaurant and customer when 3rd-party delivery is involved. 

That’s where Ovation comes in. 

The Solution

Ovation is the bridge needed in order for restaurant owners and operators to connect with their customers – particularly in situations that involve 3rd-party delivery. 

At this point, you understand the importance of building digital relationships with your customers, but where are you going to begin? How are you going to manage the negative reviews from the positive ones? 

The answer? Ovation.

Ovation is always here to maintain a dialogue while staying compliant with the review engine’s terms and conditions (of which there are MANY!).

It isn’t just about trying to intercept a negative review, it is about caring enough to listen to your customers and show them that they truly matter to you. As the one and only Danny Meyer said, 

“In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”Danny Meyer, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business 

Convenience and connection are the name of the game. By providing both, you’ll be able to grow your business and deliver what consumers have now come to expect from the restaurant industry.

In the end, regardless of what concerns you may have, the 3rd-party delivery industry isn’t dying anytime soon, so it’s about time to get on board. 

Extending the Customer Experience Beyond Your Four Walls

This might be obvious, but your customer’s front porch isn’t located within the confines of your restaurant. However, there are a few things you can do in order to extend your brand off-prem.

Do me a favor, and take a look at the packaging your restaurant uses for To-Go and Delivery orders. 

Is it sturdy and/or of good quality? Is it covered in patterns, or your restaurant’s logo? Does it feel nice? Does it look decent? 

Fact is, your packaging matters more than you might think. Packaging should reflect your brand/values and be substantial and durable – especially since a 3rd-party delivery driver will be taking it to your customer. I cannot stress the importance of anti-leak, heavy-duty packaging materials and containers enough. 

You want that food of yours to arrive in-tact, don’t you?

Another way restaurant operators can help close the distance between them and their customers, is to include a little something special in every To-Go order bag. Consider slipping a little thank you card with a QR code on it, so customers can use it to provide you with feedback via phone number to text, website, or email address.

A little goes a long way, particularly in the restaurant industry. 

Gaining communication between the customer and the restaurant is not only key for a better customer experience overall, but also essential for restaurants that want to thrive in today’s world.

Doing these types of small gestures make each customer feel a stronger connection with you and your restaurant – they will be much more likely to return in the future (and bring their friends along with them!)

Did you know that 94% of people don’t voice complaints to restaurant managers? 

Did you know that 94% of people don’t voice complaints to restaurant managers? Instead, they turn to Google, Yelp, or another online platform to vent about their negative experience for everyone to see. 

It’s a lose-lose situation, as the customer remains unhappy and the restaurant doesn’t get the opportunity to make it right and improve. Plus, this type of public negativity can be detrimental for a business – restaurant or otherwise. 

So, why don’t customers come directly to the manager or operator of a restaurant to voice their concerns?

Mainly because it’s not easy for them to get in contact with someone who holds a position of authority at the restaurant, such as a manager or operator, that can make them feel validated and address the situation professionally. 

In addition, some negative customer experiences call for managerial action, such as performing a refund, offering to replace a meal for free, etc. In these types of scenarios, only a manager or restaurant operator would know how best to proceed in order to appease the customer. 

But wait, how can a restaurant address upset customers directly (and out of the public eye), if the customers do not have an easy way of contacting the restaurant to discuss the issue in the first place?

Ovation offers an ideal solution to this problem – by providing an open line of communication that’s simple and user-friendly, for interactions between restaurants and their customers. 

*Harboring relationships between customers and service providers, both on and off-prem, start by providing an easy way to directly engage in conversation. Ovation makes dialogue between restaurants and their customers easy and efficient. Schedule a demo here.*

Ovation doesn’t stop there, we are passionate and dedicated to helping restaurants thrive in today’s 3rd-party world. That means assisting restaurant owners and operators with all aspects of the customer experience. 

Surveys are one of the best ways a business can gather insight into what their customers wants, needs, and expectations are. Since the customer is ever-evolving, surveys provide a way to learn when and in what ways the customer’s needs are changing. 

In order to better understand the customer’s thoughts and feelings towards business surveys, Ovation conducted a national survey that produced the following stats: 

85% of people want a survey with 5 or fewer questions

79% find surveys to be too much work for the incentive. Here were some specific responses:

  • “[Surveys] are too long and annoying and I never hear back when I give feedback”
  • “I would take [surveys] more often if they were easier to access (QR code)”
  • “I’m not going to go to a website and put in some crazy long number just to answer 10 plus questions”
  • The one word related to survey the most often? “Hassle”!

Key to success with customer surveys? Make them short, sweet, and easy to access. 

Another option is to create a group of loyal customers that give you feedback directly on aspects of the off-prem experience, such as how the food looked when delivered. A “customer board of advisors”, if you will. 

To learn more about this idea, check out this episode of Ovation’s podcast, featuring Henry Patterson of Rethink Restaurants.

4 Steps You Can Take Right Now To Own The Customer Experience:

  1. Encourage Easy Customer Feedback – Provide an easy way to solicit feedback from customers post delivery of their orders, i.e bag stuffers.
  2. Develop a Process for Resolving Issues 1 on 1 – Have a process in place to resolve the issue 1:1 with the customer. A process to solve the issue at the root so it doesn’t happen again for other customers.
  3. Familiarize Yourself with 3rd-Party Impact – Understand your customer experience with 3rd-party delivery and how it compares to in-store.
  4. Harbor Customer Relationships – Build a relationship with 3rd-party customers and turn them into 1st-party customers.

Be aware though and make sure to read the contract you signed with that 3rd-party delivery company. Bag stuffers should not directly incentivize customers to use 1st-party delivery, but they can usually incentivize them to come in store.

The Ovation Way

Considering that you may be the DIY type, we want to provide the above tips and tricks for you. However, we are always here to help you automate and simplify this entire process. 

Ovation makes it easy to measure guest satisfaction – from delivery, curbside, pick-up, 3rd-party, and even *gasp* dine-in. 

We provide the tools for you or your staff members to respond, in just 3 easy clicks, to any guest concern or inquiry, plus the ability to monitor these conversations in real-time. Our proven system of tools make seeing where you need to improve, and how you can increase your guest satisfaction level, as quick and easy as opening an email. 

We spend our entire day working on improving guest experience through actionable feedback. If you’d like to learn more, drop us a line! 

And if you have suggestions on what has worked for you, feel free to email me (Zach Oats – Founder & CEO of Ovation) directly at zack@ovationup.com.

Thanks for reading down to the bottom – I’m sure glad you did, and I sincerely hope you were able to get some value from it!


Zack Oats is the Founder & CEO of Ovation, an actionable guest feedback tool for restaurants and retailers. He is an author, husband, father, entrepreneur, and hot tub aficionado. He loves talking about restaurant operations on his podcast, Give an Ovation.