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How to get guests to order from your restaurant instead of a delivery service

Restaurants need to be direct with customers about the best way to order from them, Advice Guy says.
Restaurant delivery
Photograph: Shutterstock

Now that my business is 100% takeout and delivery, I had to bite the bullet and sign up for a third-party delivery service. The fees are ridiculous, but OK, I get it. What I don’t get is why people insist on ordering through a third-party site even for pickup. Why am I splitting my revenue when all they are doing is sending in the order? And how can I tell my guests just to call me directly for pickup or even local delivery—I watched a delivery guy literally pick up an order that had been sitting and walk it across the street. I would have taken it myself!

—Owner/operator, multiunit

New guidelines related to COVID-19 have changed the way many full-service restaurants are operating. A full-service concept that might have had delivery as an adjunct to its dining room may now—like it or not—be focusing on delivery and takeout, and depending on those dollars as a primary revenue source.

Much has been made of the high cost of fees and commissions for third-party delivery services, and I’ve been receiving a number of questions about that. That’s a debate for another day and a future column. Your question is not about the merits of these services: outsourcing delivery, getting marketing support, and gaining online infrastructure, in exchange for (what some would say are exorbitant) fees. 

Rather, your question is about how to encourage your guests (especially those picking up their order) to bypass the third-party delivery services altogether. First, it’s important to remember that people may have many reasons for ordering through a delivery app. Perhaps they have a gift card, promotion, or other incentive for using the app; perhaps they found your operation while on the app and never would have found you otherwise; perhaps they tried calling but couldn’t get through. My first piece of advice is to be sure that it is easy for people to order from you directly—do you have adequate staffing during peak hours to handle your call volume, does your website allow for online ordering, and is it clear how to order when searching for you online? 

Ben Fileccia, Director of Operations and Strategy for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association agrees: “The best way for that operator to get his message across is directly. And that can be done in a number of ways:
1. Social media. Make sure you are telling your followers how they can best support you. Be transparent about what you pay to third-party delivery companies.
2. Reach out to your guests via email messages. Ask them for their support and to try to order direct whenever possible.
3. Send printed messages in the takeout food you are serving. A hand-written note from an owner goes a long way.
4. Make sure the folks you have answering your phones are pleasant and engaging. If the ordering experience isn't pleasant, customers will use automated methods instead of personal ones.”

To implement a strategy like this, first review the agreements you have with any third-party sites to make sure you are complying with them. Once you know the guidelines, be direct in encouraging people to order the way you prefer they order. You may even think about offering incentives for direct ordering such as a future discount card or popping a free dessert in the bag of orders made directly through your operation.

More on third-party delivery services here

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