Third Party Delivery Life or Death for the Restaurant Operator

The conversation surrounding food delivery continues to be a major concern for today’s restaurant operators as they wade through a number of new technologies providing third-party delivery solutions.

GrubHub is up by over 38 percent in sales. The online delivery marketplace has also acquired Tapingo, Eat24, and LevelUp, and recently partnered with Dunkin’. However, not far behind, DoorDash just overtook GrubHub in U.S. monthly food delivery sales. The ever-popular Uber maintains a steady 91 million monthly active users in over 20 countries and provides food delivery for 50 percent of the U.S. population.

Nevertheless, our research here at Foodable Labs shows that there are some beginning signs of fatigue in both the operator and the consumer in terms of sentiment toward third-party delivery. An analysis of over one million conversations about third-party delivery reveals a few key areas that consistently problematize the companies’ claims to convenience.

Top 10 Third-Party By Sentiment Rating

Source: Foodable Labs

The Fees hit both the operator and the consumer. Operators typically pay third-party companies 20 to 30 percent of the base cost of the ordered food. Depending on the delivery service, consumers may pay a yearly fee or pay fees for delivery from certain restaurants. In just this past quarter, there has been a sentiment drop of 3.6 points on the consumer side across the top ten delivery services. On the operator side, the drop is even direr: sentiment fell by 5.8 points.

The Data represents a constant battle between the operator and the delivery service: who owns a guest’s information, order habits, items, and frequency of purchase? The restaurants believe the guests’ data belongs to them because the customer is their guest eating their food, whereas delivery services want to leverage the data to the max with deals, app notifications, and constant marketing.

The Brand is a key area that hits home for every restaurant business. Because the restaurant loses control of the delivery, brand continuity often comes into question. Food safety and new packaging is a constant concern for restaurants to ensure they maintain each customer’s business and overall enjoyment of the restaurant.

The Jimmy John’s sandwich chain, one of the first restaurants to embrace delivery services, has refused since its beginnings to deal with third-party companies due to these issues. “We’ve been researching … what is best for our customers and our brand,” says Jimmy John’s Chief Marketing Officer John Shea. “In our exploration, we came to the conclusion that we do it better.”

The question still remains whether food delivery companies like GrubHub and UberEats can come up with a program to solve these issues. My take is that the industry is incredibly complex: businesses range from independent to franchises to emerging chains to Titans of QSR, and each business has different needs and complaints regarding the current model of third-party food delivery.

Some members of the industry are seeking the bottom line of profit, while others are looking for top-line sales and incremental lift. The brand also comes into play, and profit is always a factor. The guest connection could also change the entire landscape of food delivery over the course of the next few years.

A few brands are taking matters into their own hands. Third party delivery can deeply cut profits, so fast-casual restaurants like Modern Market and Panera Bread are investing in their own ordering and delivery platforms. This move is risky, as it could limit the company’s competitive potential. But the choice ensures that the restaurant can maintain brand continuity and better address customer concerns regarding the food delivery process.

Third party delivery providers have a fiduciary responsibility to grow the business and create stockholder value. And history shows that pushback from the community can be a deterrence to the growth of these companies. The real difference here is that the dynamics of the restaurant industry does not fare well for third-party deliverers. The real future for the third-party delivery companies lies in the development of their own foodservice brands —whether they are cloud and virtual kitchens, or full on commissary systems that can meet massive demand. In my video report from last November, I break down the idea of how third-party restaurant brand development is the real gold rush for likes of Uber and GrubHub.