With third-party delivery usage up, here are 3 ways restaurants can protect the customer experience

Paul Tiedt | Apr 16, 2020 Paul Tiedt 04/16/20

As people around the U.S. hunker down at home, the age-old question “What’s for dinner?” is more often being answered with the help of a food delivery app. Since March 11—when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and restaurants across the country shut down their dining rooms—many brands have turned to third-party delivery providers like DoorDash and Uber Eats to get food to customers.

While these partnerships help restaurants keep their kitchens open and business flowing, the influx of orders is putting pressure on third-party delivery vendors. An increase in traffic means a greater chance of problem occurrence—and due to the current climate, customer expectations have never been higher.

The good news is where there is risk, there is opportunity. SMG has been closely following third-party delivery trends and their impact on the restaurant industry since our first published report in 2017. Included in our latest research are 3 opportunities for restaurants to take control of the third-party delivery experience and protect their brand—even during a pandemic. Let’s take a look:

Opportunity #1: Ensure all orders are completely accurate

The high rate of problem occurrence with third-party delivery orders was alarming in 2017 and it’s only gotten worse—now more than 40% of customers are experiencing an issue. And when they do, it’s most often a problem with order accuracy.


On top of that, 57% of customers will blame the restaurant for the mistake rather than the delivery provider—no matter who is actually at fault.

Stakes are high. You don’t have the luxury of leaning on other facets of the customer experience, like restaurant ambiance or staff attentiveness. Right now, it’s all about the food. And if your customer is craving one thing and gets something else delivered, they won’t be happy. And there’s a very good chance they’ll be ordering from another restaurant next time. So what can your staff do to improve order accuracy? Here are a few best practices to implement:

  • Ensure there is clear and precise order communication between the third-party app and your kitchen, which includes any special requests from the customer
  • Assign a point person for double-checking orders once they are filled
  • Seal the bag and visibly adhere the receipt to the order after it’s checked to make sure no mix-ups happen in the delivery process

Opportunity #2:  Keep food safety top-of-mind

Another reason order accuracy is so important is due to COVID-19 and current heightened concerns involving food safety. Our research shows 77% of consumers are now concerned about their health, making a  contactless customer experience the new normal. We’ve also seen a major uptick in COVID-19 mentions in our clients’ text analytics—with more than 50% of the comments having negative sentiment. Having to correct an inaccurate order means disrupting a frictionless experience—a situation that could cause many customers to feel uneasy.

When it comes to third-party delivery, restaurants have the biggest opportunity to win over less frequent users. For those customers who are using third-party delivery less, 27% are concerned about the safety of delivered food—which is 8% higher than customers who are using third-party delivery the same amount. You need to win the trust of those leery customers by proving your brand is prioritizing their health and safety.


What’s the best way to win customers’ trust? Though restaurants can’t control what a driver will do, you can implement processes to help protect the order and signal to customers the food hasn’t been tampered with. Along with following the FDA’s updated COVID-19 food safety guidelines, be sure food arrives in a clean (no grease stains or spilled condiments), well-packed, and closed container with a branded seal.

              Opportunity #3: Don’t ignore customers’ online reviews

Sometimes no matter what preventative actions you take, things still go wrong. And when they do, customers often turn to the internet to air their grievances.

Though there has been an overall decline of online reviews since the COVID-19 outbreak—in large part due to Google temporarily shutting down their reviews feature—we’re still seeing a lot of social feedback on COVID-19 coming in at the brand level. This means customers are using social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to describe their experience—and more often than not, they have something negative to say.

This can be particularly disruptive when it comes to third-party delivery. Our research shows a brand’s social reputation takes a big hit when customers post about their third-party delivery experience. On average, social ratings decline by 1.5 stars when third-party is mentioned at all.


If your mistake gets shared on the internet, it can do some serious brand damage and make potential customers choose someplace else. To protect your brand, you need an online reputation management solution that integrates other CX data and allows for easy access to reviews, seamless engagement with customers, and swift problem resolution.

­­Take control of the third-party delivery experience

Third-party delivery is not a new concept, but there are still kinks in the process that need to be ironed out. With problem occurrence on the rise—and happening nearly half the time—there’s a lot of room for improvement.

The good news is there are several steps restaurants can take to improve the process. By implementing best practices to drive order accuracy, ensure food safety, and protect your online reputation, you are setting your brand up for success in these unprecedented times.

We will be posting more on our third-party delivery findings—including updated trends, top app performance, and new methods of food delivery. Until then, you can access full results in the report: Take control of third-party delivery to protect your brand: 7 food delivery trends + 10 steps to a successful delivery strategy.

Paul Tiedt | SVP, Research
Customer Experience Update