Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on the rise of “phygital” experiences in restaurants. The opening article focused on kiosks.

Our second volume exploring the rise of “phygital” restaurant experiences takes us to in-store, curbside, and delivery. Like kiosks in the opening piece, these channels aren’t new developments. But it would be difficult to argue against the reality they’ve become a good deal more nuanced since COVID-19. If anything, the systems are more powerful and streamlined, and readily available for brands looking to expand reach, whether through direct or third-party ordering, app or website, and so forth.

Tillster’s data reflected the widening approach:

Using a restaurant-specific website or app for pickup

  • Have done so: 42 percent
  • Have done so, in the past three months: 30 percent
  • Plan to use more in the next year: 34 percent

Using a restaurant-specific website or app for delivery

  • Have done so: 36 percent
  • Have done so, in the past three months: 25 percent
  • Plan to use more in the next year: 34 percent

Using third-party website or app for pickup or delivery

  • Have done so: 34 percent
  • Plan to use more in the next year: 31 percent

Perhaps ignited by inflation or just continued adoption throughout the marketplace, the percentage of diners who said they’ve used a restaurant-specific website or mobile app for delivery in the past three months rose 25 percent. The percentage of respondents who said they ordered via restaurant-specific websites/apps for delivery and third-party websites/apps changed only nominally year-over-year.

For those who used restaurant-specific website or apps for pickup

  • At least once per week (or more): 61 percent
  • 1–3 times per month: 36 percent
  • Less often than once per month: 3 percent

Restaurant-specific website or app for delivery

  • At least once per week (or more): 56 percent
  • 1–3 times per month: 34 percent
  • Less often than once per month: 10 percent

Third-party website/app for pickup or delivery

  • At least once per week (or more): 57 percent
  • 1–3 times per month: 36 percent
  • Less often than once per month: 8 percent

Seventy-two percent of people who said they used restaurant-specific websites/apps did so for in-store pickup, and 57 percent activated them for curbside pickup.

Ninety-one percent who used third-party websites/apps said they did so for delivery and 50 percent for pickup.

In all, there appears to be a trend toward white label, if it’s available. Over the coming year, consumers said they expect to reduce their usage of third-party websites/apps in favor of restaurant-hosted ones.

Seventeen percent expect to use third-party apps/websites less in the next 12 months; 10 percent plan to use restaurant-specific options for pickup; 9 percent project to tap restaurant-specific websites/apps for delivery less in the next year.

As Tillster pointed out, this diminishing reliance on third-party services could stem from price mark-ups and added fees. “With 61 percent of consumers having abandoned a delivery order because the cost of delivery was too expensive, [quick-serves] have an opportunity to earn more direct orders by promoting their own platforms as a cost-saving alternative to third-party apps and websites,” the company said.

Still, it wouldn’t advise abandoning the aggregator marketplace altogether. But given the need to maximize profitability and reach users who predominately engage through third-party channels, “steering more business toward owned channels offers many benefits, including greater profitability.”

Additionally, chains can communicate more directly with customers and guard the guest experience.

More on pickup

Tillster’s report showed a climb in curbside and in-store pickup as well. That, too, could be tied to the cost of delivery and broader concerns in today’s economy. Not only did users in the survey suggest they plan to increase their use of restaurant-specific apps/websites for pickup more than any other ordering method, but they also noted they’re visiting restaurants with the option more often.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents who have used curbside pickup said they would be much more or somewhat more likely to visit a quick-service restaurant that offers it in the coming year. That percentage was up from 69 percent last year.

Yet like kiosks, the proliferation of curbside has created higher stakes on the back end. More than half of customers (55 percent) who ordered pickup in the last three months said they had issues with parking when collecting orders. Thirty-five percent said they couldn’t park where they were supposed to because all the spots were filled; 27 percent said they couldn’t get any parking in the restaurant lot; and 22 percent couldn’t find where they were supposed to park.

Poor pickup directions are a detriment to staff, too, Tillster said. It makes it more challenging to deliver meals and manage orders.

Touchpoint No. 3

The next phase of “phygital” ties in with the above. How are operators handling proprietary versus third party (and app versus website)?

There aren’t many quick-serves in today’s landscape not working to elevate digital ordering and loyalty to complement in-store operations. “After all,” Tillster said, “customers aren’t differentiating between digital channels and the physical locations—rather it all contributes to a single cohesive phygital experience.”

Akin to the pickup breakdown, data showed a growing consumer preference toward white-label concepts.

Pickup preference: Diners said they favor restaurant-specific websites/apps (65 percent) over third-party ones (24 percent)

Delivery preference: Respondents favored restaurant-specific websites/apps (52 percent) over third-party ones (36 percent)

And so, has the third-party bubble burst somewhat? While diners historically gravitated toward the option for its variety, this advantage could be waning as aggregators scale back the number of restaurants they support, Tillster said. Last year, 45 percent of diners cited variety as a top reason for preferring third-party platforms, with 38 percent noting their favorite restaurants were only available there.

This year, the numbers slid to 36 and 28 percent, respectively. In other terms, more restaurants are offering direct services.

Respondents in this year’s survey said they were using third-party networks more out of habit than preference. “Could this be a habit [quick-service restaurants] can break?” the company said. “By improving their digital ordering methods and in-store experiences to create phygital offerings that give diners what they’re looking for, [quick-serves] can influence consumers’ behaviors.”

Top reasons diners prefer restaurant-specific websites/apps

  • Less expensive: 44 percent
  • Earn loyalty program benefits/rewards: 44 percent

Top reasons diners prefer third-party websites/apps

  • More convenient: 56 percent
  • I’m used to it: 37 percent

Bridging the divide

To some respects, the concept of “phygital” unpacks to stripping friction at the point. So much so that deliberation becomes invisible. It’s a model of maximizing experiences across touchpoints to reach guests where they are—phone, website, app, in-store, etc. But consumers don’t necessarily weigh one over another as much as they seek connectivity on their own terms.

Thirty-nine percent of people in the survey said they use a restaurant’s website more often than its app; 37 percent said they use the app more; 23 percent use the two channels equally. “[Quick-serves] need to consider how each digital avenue serves their customers and fits within the brand’s larger ecosystem,” Tillster said. “With nearly a quarter of consumers equally using apps and websites, it’s important to create intuitive, cohesive experiences that enhance overall satisfaction, foster positive attitudes towards the brand, and build stronger loyalty.”

Regarding how to nurture this, here’s a look at what consumers wanted from restaurant’s digital offerings:

  • More exclusive offers and discounts: 47 percent
  • Better order tracking: 34 percent
  • More customization options: 32 percent
  • Faster checkout process: 30 percent

Respondents added they would be more likely to order from a new app if there were better discounts/rewards, or they could avoid lines at the restaurant. Those have been consistent themes, year-over-year. Only 3 percent said there was nothing that would motivate them to use a new app.

  • 1. Better discounts/rewards than I currently get: 62 percent
  • 2. Ability to avoid lines at the restaurant: 51 percent
  • 3. Easy sign up for loyalty program; 44 percent
  • 4. Ability to save a past order for quick reordering: 39 percent
  • 5. Personalized menu recommendation capability: 32 percent

The phygital ingredients

These touchpoints, Tillster said, when done right, have proven to raise order volumes, foster repeat business, and alleviate pressure placed on staff.

Seventy-one percent of quick-serve customers said they have a favorite location for their most-visited chain. Why? It’s conveniently located (70 percent) and the experience was consistent (51 percent). Can those points extend to digital? Diners said the most important factor through a restaurant’s tech stack was that “the experience is consistent across disparate tools.”

Not unlike walking into a restaurant and struggling through the ordering queue, when tech fails to work according to expectations, it can frustrate and alienate customers, “driving them toward competitors who deliver on their phygital promises,” Tillster said.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents said inconsistent experiences across locations of the same chain bothered them; 57 percent felt inconsistent experiences made them less likely to return.

Forty-five percent of diners added they’ve experienced digital tools not working together as they should; and 93 percent were frustrated by these inconsistent tools; 62 percent noted the reality affects their willingness to go back.

Top frustrations with restaurant apps

  • Glitches (app freezes or crashes): 34 percent
  • Issues redeeming promotional offers, discounts, or loyalty rewards: 26 percent
  • Errors during the payment process: 25 percent
  • Difficulties customizing orders: 24 percent

Beyond maintaining functional, updated, and glitch-free digital offerings, Tillster said guests favor reliable and familiar experiences when it comes to phygital. Complaints regarding inconsistency, like disjointed online versus in-store promotions and erratic order customization options, are buckets loyalty programs can address.

They have the capability to bridge the gap between consistent service delivery and the desire for personalized offers and experiences.

When receiving a free item as a loyalty perk, 68 percent of customers said they added additional items to their cart; 41 percent paid extra for customization.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the loyalty programs they currently belong to.

“However,” the company said, “it’s important to recognize that gaining loyalty sign-ups can sometimes be an uphill battle because consumers are selective about the loyalty programs they belong to.”

Using the data, Tillster created a checklist to guide loyalty efforts.

Does it provide frequent rewards?

Twenty-two percent of members said they expect rewards every one to two orders; 45 percent expect them every three to five orders.

Does it work across devices?

Eighty-two percent of loyalty program users demand information like ordering history, notification of when an order will be ready, and loyalty offers/rewards to be available on any device.

Does it deliver personalized experiences?

Eighty-nine percent of respondents want to receive some type of personalized message from quick-serves; 58 percent said they were interested in receiving a recommendation for alternative menu items when their usual order wasn’t available.

Is it easy to enroll in?

Forty-four percent of diners said they’d be motivated to download a new app if it was easy to sign up for the loyalty program.

Personalization also pulsed in the survey as a crucial element of the ordering experience.

Fifty-eight percent of diners said they were very or somewhat likely to recommend a quick-serve based on a positive personalized ordering experience; 33 percent noted they’d even decided to not order from a brand because the ordering approach was not personalized to their preferences—up from 21 percent last year.

Fifty-three percent added they’ve tried a new item due to a personalized recommendation; 50 percent have taken advantage of a personalized loyalty offer; and 37 percent have tried a recommended menu item pairing.

A touch over three-quarters (76 percent) of people felt some frustration if they received offers that were not relevant to their past orders or preferences.

Devices diners want to receive personalized messages on

No. 1

Mobile app

No. 2 (tied)

Email and text

No. 4


Personalized ordering experiences diners expect

  • Order customization: 48 percent
  • Loyalty anniversaries: 46 percent
  • Receiving tailored loyalty offers: 43 percent
  • Remembering my preferred order: 38 percent

“Phygital touchpoints help reinforce and complement the food and service [quick-serves] provide,” the company said. “From mobile ordering and personalized recommendations to digital loyalty programs and advanced self-service kiosks, these touchpoints create cohesive, integrated experiences that earn consumer loyalty, kudos, and dollars. But customers have high expectations for these experiences.

Consumer Trends, Ordering, Story, Technology