In the wake of the pandemic, restaurants were forced to close their doors but not their kitchens. Whether fine-dining or family-style establishments, many in the industry had to shift their business model to stay connected with customers to stay afloat. 

Food delivery apps became the go-to option to meet the continued demand for restaurant-style food, introducing new users and merchants to the market. However, the technology did more than just satisfy people’s cravings; it was a tool that also served convenience, speed, and efficiency. 

In 2023, the global online food delivery sector was estimated at over $1 trillion. A number that is expected to almost double by 2028. That’s because technology is evolving to provide direct insight into consumers’ buying behavior, influences, and preferences. Ingredients needed to create a solid business strategy to stay fresh in a rapidly growing market.

So, to stay competitive, restaurants must leverage today’s technology to feed customers’ appetites in more ways than one, and creating a custom app is becoming the most popular item on the menu to do just that. 

Custom Delivery Apps vs. Third-Party Delivery Platforms

Uber Eats, DoorDash, Rappi—in almost every corner of the world, a food delivery app has become a household name. With tens of millions of users scouring these pages monthly, getting menus in front of a customer base of this magnitude is an easy choice for many restaurants—especially the growing number of new establishments in search of customers. 

In 2023, roughly 53,800 new restaurants in the U.S. opened their doors, an increase of 10 percent from 2022. Many will be focused on establishing their business, turning to third-party apps for their deliveries, giving them quick entry into the space and the other key benefits that come with it. Including a streamlined ordering process between the restaurant, delivery driver, and the customer, eliminating the time and money needed to build these resources independently. While also providing paid marketing options to boost visibility and access a broader reach of the platform’s user base. 

But in recent years, the market success of companies that have their own delivery app has been pushing many restaurants to do the same. Food venues that were once hesitant to invest in developing an app are discovering the immense value in having greater control of their branding and overall customer experience.

Domino’s app, with 7.9 million active users, is a shining example of a business that has enhanced its customer experience through its features. Reward points, a 30-minute delivery guarantee, feedback channels and a live tracker to follow each stage of the ordering process are just some of the initiatives that have led to their rise in shares. Similarly, Chick-fil-A has found success in creating a stronger relationship with its customers through its app. A restaurant chain with notoriously long lineups discovered that they were losing a demographic of customers unwilling to wait, and created a feature allowing users to skip the line.

With 83 percent of consumers more likely to become returning customers under a loyalty program, a branded app is a strategic approach for restaurants to capitalize on. Unique rewards and easily integrateable features such as faster deliveries and queue jumping are great ways to get your customers signing up.

Additionally, collaborating with third-party platforms for extended reach while using a branded app to nurture direct relationships with customers strikes a balance. This hybrid approach allows restaurants to tap into diverse customer bases, optimize operational efficiency, and stay agile in the evolving food delivery landscape.

How emerging technologies will continue to shift the future of food delivery 

Technological advancements have also allowed restaurants to uncover valuable assets—customer demographics and buying habits. By having direct insight into a customer’s preferences, restaurants can create personalized experiences tailored to each user. For example, if a customer has a habit of ordering vegetarian meals on a Sunday evening, the app can notify the user of veggie specials through push notifications around their eating schedule. 

With 91 percent of Gen-Z consumers more likely to purchase with brands that provide customized recommendations, it’s crucial for restaurants to jump on this trend. Proactively using customer data to guide a personalized marketing strategy will lead to greater customer satisfaction.

App developers and third-party food delivery companies are also integrating emerging technologies like generative AI to elevate the user experience, reduce errors, and expedite operational efficiencies. By way of AI chatbots and voice ordering, customers can directly say what they want, and the technology will give them personalized options—eliminating the need to scroll through hundreds of options and tabs. In an attempt to add a layer of safety for their users, DoorDash recently announced SafeChat+. This feature uses artificial intelligence to detect and flag inappropriate or abusive interactions between customers and delivery personnel. 

Engaging with customers through spatial computing is also on the horizon for restaurants with branded apps looking to evolve with trend setting technology. Earlier this year, Crumbl set the tone as the first restaurant chain to introduce its app to Apple Vision Pro users. Offering the features one would expect from a customer-centric delivery app, with an entire ordering process that’s immersive and interactive.

There is no one-size-fits-all delivery model for restaurants in today’s world. However, as emerging technology continues to reshape the food delivery landscape, restaurants will benefit from embracing these advancements to stay competitive and meet the evolving expectations of today’s tech-savvy consumers. 

Kirimgeray Kirimli is a highly experienced technology professional currently serving as President at Flatiron Software Co. in New York. His career features a range of leadership and software engineering roles, such as Vice President of Engineering at Nexstar Media Group, Inc. and Tech Lead at Hearst Magazines. With his extensive leadership and technical expertise, Kırımgeray drives innovation, promotes teamwork, and delivers top-notch software solutions, contributing to the success and growth of Flatiron Software Co.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology