COVID-19 closures and the accompanying digital transformation revolution led more restaurants to embrace delivery service, mostly through food service apps like GrubHub, UberEats, Deliveroo, and DoorDash. By now, these brand names are as much a part of the culinary hospitality industry landscape as Pizza Hut or Taco Bell.

Between April and September 2020, the top four food delivery companies in the US earned approximately $5.5 billion in combined revenue, more than twice as much as during the same period in 2019. Contrary to expectations, usage didn’t fall in 2021 as the world reopened and full service dining returned.

Today, with local COVID restrictions finally coming to an end and the restaurant industry regaining its footing, many customers are still nervous about eating out. Regardless, at this point we’ve all grown accustomed to eating at home and are comfortable with app-based services.

The burgeoning food delivery service industry is filling a vital role—helping restaurants reach consumers, helping consumers get hold of the meals they want, and even giving people flexible ways to earn an income as delivery drivers.

But it’s not all a fairy tale. Delivery people report to the app service, not the restaurant, so accountability is weak. Restaurateurs don’t know what happens to their food between the kitchen door and the consumer’s plate, and customers often complain that meals arrive late, poorly presented, and/or the wrong temperature. Restaurants struggle to connect with the diner experience when it’s at a distance, making it harder for them to stay ahead of customer preferences.

In many ways, problems with delivery apps are an extension of those affecting the supply chain that brings produce and other ingredients to restaurants. Vendors may want to rely on local farmers, fishermen, butchers, brewers, and so forth, but supply can be erratic. On the other hand, supply chains that stretch further afield are often fragmented, over-extended and opaque, with the result that either way, restaurant managers are frequently in the dark about what to expect and when to expect it.

This lack of transparency makes deliveries unpredictable, causing last-minute changes and unmet expectations from restaurateurs and diners alike. However, with the right data signals in hand, the industry can boost predictability, enhance quality control visibility and protect brand reputations.

Bridging the gap between the restaurant and the customer

When people eat in a restaurant, the manager can keep their finger on the pulse of the dining experience, assessing whether guests enjoy this dish, if that dish is frequently sent back, and what the general atmosphere is regarding the food. But when meals are eaten at a distance, it breaks the relationship, even though customers can leave feedback through the app.

Better data can close this gap. The more restaurant managers know about how the order reached the diner, the more they can reconstruct—and find ways to improve—the remote dining experience.

Using inexpensive IoT devices to track the progress of a delivery allows stakeholders to see how long it took to arrive. Encouraging customers to share selfies with their food lets you see how it appeared upon delivery and react before a nasty review goes live. It’s also easy enough to set up a system to request feedback directly to your restaurant website, not (only) to the delivery app. 

Tracking the delivery from kitchen to table

Having food arrive in a less than ideal condition is sadly a common problem in the food delivery space. Sometimes a hot burger arrives lukewarm; a layered salad arrives in a mess; or sushi is room temperature by the time it reaches the consumer on a summer’s day.

Better logistics data that tracks every aspect of the delivery itself can help solve this problem. Condition monitoring can verify if the order reached the right diner within the right timeframe, if the food rolled around on the passenger’s seat, or if it spent too long outside the motorbike’s insulated box before it was delivered.

With these insights, business leaders and chefs can tweak the menu to offer dishes that travel better, stay warm/cold for longer, and are generally better suited to a takeout experience than to an eat-in experience.

Data can also prove when a complaint about the condition of the food is genuinely not the fault of the delivery service, helping reduce tensions, avoid service agreement disputes and strengthen relationships on all sides.

Giving restaurateurs visibility into the supply chain

Vendors rely on suppliers for fresh produce, staples like flour, sugar, and beans, and high quality herbs and spices, but they don’t always know what they are going to receive, when it will arrive, or what condition it will arrive in. All too often, restaurateurs are cooking without sufficient predictability.

But improved supply chain tracking data can restore their visibility, especially when you connect the entire supply chain to enable restaurant managers to see beyond their immediate supplier and view all the way upstream. This way, they’ll know if the saffron crop has failed and pushed up the price of saffron, if the facility that sends part-baked rolls encountered unexpected downtime and can only offer a smaller range of bread options for the next three days, if the craft brewery had a kegging mishap, and so forth.

When chefs and managers know what will arrive that morning and for the next few days, they can change the online menu accordingly, before consumers are disappointed with the message that a given dish isn’t available.

Putting sustainability on the menu

Sustainability is a growing issue, dictating purchase choices for more and more consumers, but polystyrene-insulated food delivery containers are not environmentally friendly. There’s a risk that the environmental footprint could put consumers off their food.

Here again, data can help. More data about the condition that food arrives in and how customers react to it could reveal which dishes are more temperature or motion resistant and thus need less packaging, so they can be marked “climate friendly” on the menu.

Connecting data about deliveries can also enable delivery services to build in pickup for used thermo-boxes so they can be reused, allowing restaurants and delivery services to differentiate themselves as sustainable, while food delivery services can use this data to plan a better route that uses less fuel to cover all recipients.

Data is the missing spice in restaurant meal deliveries

With better data into conditions during delivery, customer responses to food upon arrival, extended food supply chains, and each delivery’s carbon footprint, relationships can be strengthened throughout the food services supply chain, benefiting restaurants, delivery services, and diners alike.

Niko Polvinen is the CEO and co-founder of Logmore. He is an entrepreneur with a passion for business and software. Prior to Logmore he was co-founder, chairman and chief sales officer at jyDev Oy. Polvinen can be found online at LinkedIn.

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