Prior to COVID-19, many restaurant brands might have considered third-party food delivery a "nice-to-have" service. But during the pandemic, these services became a necessity and somewhat of a lifeline for those eating establishments that were forced to temporarily close their indoor dining rooms.
However, one year into the global pandemic, there are still concerns about these services, as well as risks and issues to overcome. Beyond the financial issues that these partnerships often pose, there are even more pressing guest experience and food safety concerns that restaurant brands must consider.
Even though the end of the pandemic might be in arm's reach, the growing tension between restaurant owners and the leading food delivery services must be resolved because there is a lot at stake. If both sides don't come to terms soon, the ongoing conflict has the potential to not only tarnish restaurant brand reputations, but cause food quality and safety to suffer as well.
The use of third-party food delivery apps doubled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to recent reporting, just three such services, DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats, represented 55% of total U.S. sales in February 2021.
As the popularity of food delivery grew, so did the pushback from restaurants who felt they were being "gouged" with fees, leading to the demand for more control over the services delivered on their behalf. What followed was a flurry of legislation that capped delivery fees.
"News of the so-called 'French fry tax' went viral when a survey revealed that nearly a third of delivery drivers have admitted to eating fries from customer orders. And more than half of these drivers admitted that they were tempted to do so.'
Dozens of cities, counties, and states (68 localities) passed legislation that caps food delivery service commissions at 15% of the total cost of orders. As of mid-March, Uber reported it was facing 78 caps nationwide.
While food delivery services are here to stay, restaurant brands should keep these three key issues in mind as they grapple with not only how to build a working relationship with third-party delivery companies, but also how to protect their brand reputation while ensuring food quality and the optimal customer experience.
Food safety risks associated with 3rd-party delivery
News of the so-called "French fry tax" went viral when a survey revealed that nearly a third of delivery drivers have admitted to eating fries from customer orders. And more than half of these drivers admitted that they were tempted to do so.
While drivers might think pilfering food from a delivery is no big deal, it could lead to food contamination. After all of the steps dining establishments take to ensure quality and food safety, once a meal leaves the restaurant, it's anyone's guess whether it will arrive at its destination as originally packaged at the restaurant.
It's critical to protect ready-to-eat foods from being tampered with and from contamination in order to ensure both brand reputation and the customer's health and safety. One way to accomplish this is to establish a set of safety guidelines, a "delivery HACCP" (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), if you will, to help identify and mitigate the major food safety risks that may occur during the transport, delivery, and handling of customer orders.
Another strategy brands should consider is creating a separate menu for food delivery. Some foods travel better than others, so it makes perfect sense to offer a second menu featuring items with ingredients that are less fragile, don't require constant refrigeration, and won't break or get soggy en route.
California initiated legislation related to food safety, quality, and "ownership" of the customer relationship and responded with the Fair Food Delivery Act of 2020 in September 2020. The Act established a set of guidelines that govern not only how food delivery companies handle food, but also prevent a food delivery platform from arranging for the delivery of an order from a food facility without first securing an authorization agreement.
This act not only helps to ensure food safety but protects brands' reputations and relationships with customers.
Packaging's importance to food safety, quality
Using proper packaging can protect your customer from potential harm caused by contamination. Many quick-service brands, including Taco Bell, McDonald's, and BurgerFi, have already started using tamper-proof packaging. And in California, it's the law as part of the Fair Food Delivery Act which dictates that ready-to-eat foods must be protected by tamper-evident packaging.
Restaurant brands should adopt the following packaging best practices to protect food quality and safety:
- Use containers that maintain food integrity during transport to prevent physical and chemical contamination. This packaging should be suitable for travel and capable of withstanding heat and humidity.
- Use separate compartments to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Avoid the temptation of using the cheapest container available. It could end up being the reason for food contamination or spoilage.
- Verify food delivery partners are only using secure, insulated boxes for transport.
The third-party delivery customer communication imperative
While labels may not seem all that important to food quality and safety, they're actually a great way to communicate with customers, as well as the delivery driver. Labels can inform the delivery driver about the recommended transport temperature, while providing customers with guidance for safe storage and preparation (eg. "Keep refrigerated"), allergen information, directions for use, and even instructions on how to give feedback on delivered orders. Labels are one way that brands can demonstrate they care about the quality of their products and the customer experience they provide.
Regardless of the voluntary steps third-party delivery companies take to ensure food safety, the responsibility (and most likely the blame for a bad experience) still remains with the restaurant. While brands cannot control how food delivery companies will handle customers' orders, restaurants must be diligent and proactive in the implementation of these measures in order to protect customers and brand reputations.
Finally, restaurant brands must vet third-party delivery partners by first doing research to find out how they handle food and how they approach customer service, as well as their average delivery times and whether they track their deliveries.
More importantly, find out whether they meet general food safety requirements and only choose third-party delivery services that consider themselves to be part of the food supply chain since these operators are demonstrating they are invested in food quality and safety.
Insulated transportation carriers, safe food handling instructions, and strict delivery vehicle cleanliness standards are just a handful of the things restaurant operators need to look for in their third-party delivery partners. Their presence, or lack thereof, speaks volumes about whether any individual delivery provider will truly be a worthy partner of your brand.