3rd-party is a great way to ease customer experience, extend your brand outside the four walls of your restaurant, and attract new customers. However, occasionally 3rd-party delivery services can be a headache for restaurants.

Since the beginning of the modern restaurant, it has been easy to establish a tone or brand experience for their customers since they created every aspect from the time they walked in the door until they left; however 3rd-party delivery services have challenged that–especially recently.

It can be hard to control what happens to your food once it leaves the building and, unfortunately, bad experiences with delivery services typically turn customer dissatisfaction towards the restaurant and brand, not the people who delivered the food to their door.

Despite not receiving the food within the restaurant, customers expect a certain experience from your brand, whether that’s at a table in their facility or on their own porch.

A lack of coherency from the location to the doorstep can lead to a lot of mistakes. 40% of all 3rd-party deliveries have some errors.

The good news?

Restaurants can overcome these challenges and take back the control over their food by bridging the gap with open communication and easy-to-use technology.

As restaurant operators are proactive in advertising their brand and embracing the 3rd-party experience, the delivery drivers will become familiar with the branding and be better fit to carry on their message to the doorstep.

In this article, we’ll share the easy and direct methods of communication and other strategies that restaurant operators should be using to better manage their 3rd-party partners.

Below we’ll cover:

  • The true impact delivery services are having on restaurants
  • The mind of the consumer throughout the process, and how to create the experience they want
  • Understanding the data behind 3rd-party delivery issues
  • How to own the customer experience and make the most of 3rd-party delivery (with 4 concrete steps on extending it beyond your four walls)

And if you get to the end and want some additional help, our team at Ovation would be happy to chat and show you how we can help you to automate the hard parts of the guest experience.

The True Impact of 3rd-Party Delivery On Restaurants

A Marketing Opportunity

People love 3rd-party delivery and the amount of people using it is growing, so there’s never been a better time to find new customers on various platforms.

The promotion of local restaurants on 3rd-party platforms puts your restaurant in front of eyes that might not have seen it otherwise. 

You may struggle justifying some of the high commission prices, but it’s worth it when done right. Think of them as customer acquisition costs that have the potential to convert life-long guests who will give you the return on your investment. 

The Culture of the Brand 

Restaurant operators lose some control over the customer experience when the order leaves their four walls. 3rd-party delivery drivers have no loyalty to you or your brand causing a gap in the customers’ experience with the brand. There is hope, though, when cultivating a strong culture for your brand, it can be extended to the customers’ doorstep with enough hard work.  

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. 

The restaurant experience began over 200 years ago and has more or less remained the same throughout time. The type, price, service quality, and ambiance of a brand or business has changed, but the core has remained the same: restaurants establish a culture and customers expect to pay for that experience. 

Delivery, to-go, and takeout are now part of every cuisine type, not just pizza or Chinese food anymore. As restaurants embrace this change and meet customer expectations of being on a similar level with technologies just as other industries are, they will find more success.

The Mind of the Consumer, And What It Means For You 

What do we know about the average customer? 

Well, we know people like 3rd-party delivery. 

Despite 97% of people having had issues with their online ordering, it continues to be a popular service. 60% percent of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout once a week. 

We also know that consumers expect an easy and smooth process technologically. They are expecting restaurants to be as advanced as other industries.

Therefore, it is no longer optional to have delivery, pickup, and easy methods of communication. There are two options now: stay with the last 200 years or adapt. There are lots of companies who have chosen each path to show us the outcome. 

Do we want to go the way of Blockbuster, Kodak, and just about every mall; or can we be on the forefront like Adobe, Apple, and Amazon? We can and must make the shift and help re-write the unwritten contract of customer expectations. 

We also know that when a customer has a negative experience, especially during a tragic 3rd-party delivery fiasco like getting your burrito eaten by a pawn shop employee, they expect to be able to start a dialogue with you and get their problem resolved. 

Maybe you’ve seen it: someone gets angry at a company on Twitter about a poor experience that wasn’t handled by customer service right and boom – the mob attacks with thousands of @’s and retweets. Eventually the embarrassed company responds and the person ends up with a lifetime of chicken sandwiches or something appeasing.

And bad press on Twitter isn’t the only worry. People are spending up to eleven hours on screens these days, and that’s not all on one site, they have potential to see bad reviews anywhere they may be. 

And while restaurants aren’t usually the source of Twitter blasting, the smallest issue sets off some of those negative-seeking Yelpers and would-be moonlighter critics to attempt to wax obnoxiously poetic about how your location deserves their 1-star review. Those reviews result in lost customers, lost revenue, and lost top-tier ratings. 

But it doesn’t have to be. You can provide a private outlet to avoid the public forums of Yelp, Google, Facebook, Twitter, where they can blast their message out to anyone who will listen.

With the proliferation of live chat on large websites, consumers more and more are looking for, expecting, and even demanding, to have an effortless venue to be heard. It is your choice if you have tools to keep it private or let share their opinions publicly. 

So you must make it easy for your customers to start a dialogue with you. Especially as interactions happen off-prem, you need to have ways to build relationships digitally. 

The Impact

Now that you understand the importance of building digital relationships with your customers, how are you going to begin? How are you going to manage the negative reviews from the positive ones?

That is where Ovation steps in.

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. It’s what consumers expect. 

Why Third-Party Delivery has Trust Problems

3rd party isn’t always the most trustworthy route to take, with 1 in 4 delivery drivers having admitted to tasting the food they are delivering. Despite this, it is continuing to become increasingly more popular.

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.”

Regardless of the concerns many people tend to have with 3rd party, the industry isn’t dying anytime soon, so get on board.

Extending the Customer Experience Beyond Your Four Walls

Obviously, their porch isn’t your restaurant. But there are things you can do to extend your brand off-prem. 

Look at your packaging. 

Is it funny, does it reflect quality, is it nice to look at? You want it to reflect your values/brand. And what did you send? Consider including a card with a QR code they can use to give you feedback through, a phone number to text, or a thank you note.

A little bit goes a long way.

Gaining communication between the customer and the restaurant is also key.

It makes sure they feel you are as available as them raising their hand to your staff at their table.

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

This is mainly because it’s not easy for them to give feedback, and it’s a lose-lose. The customer remains unhappy and the brand doesn’t get that opportunity to improve. 

So make sure there are open channels that allow customers to talk with you. 

*Creating off-prem relationships, as with any other relationships, is about starting a dialogue between customers and service providers. Ovation makes this dialogue easy and efficient. Schedule a demo here.*

When it comes to surveys, here’s some quickfire stats for you from a national survey conducted by Ovation: 

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”!

The survey bottom line: 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. Provide an easy way to solicit feedback from customers post delivery of their orders, i.e bag stuffers.

2. 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. Understand your customer experience with 3rd-party delivery and how it compares to in-store.

4. 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

Understanding that you might be the DIY type, we want to give you those tips -but remember, we’re always here to help automate the hard stuff. 

Ovation makes it easy to measure guest satisfaction from delivery, curbside, pick-up, 3rd-party, and even (gasp) sitting down at the tables. We then have tools so that you or your staff can respond to any guest concerns in 3 clicks and in real-time monitor those conversations. We then make it as easy as opening an email to see where you need to improve and the health of your guest satisfaction. 

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 directly at zack@ovationup.com.

Thanks for reading down to the bottom–I’m sure glad you did and 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.