How To Make Third-Party Delivery Work

This is a different perspective on my thoughts from the article How Restaurants Need To Rethink Delivery, which originally ran in Modern Restaurant Management.

I think the first big thing we all need to understand is that delivery is here to stay. Its current form may be new — or newer — but honestly in an industry as insular and slow to change as the restaurant industry, that’s not saying a lot, is it? To be sure, there are aspects that as restaurateurs we don’t like: high commissions, branded drivers, and operational challenges abound, but consumers have voted and delivery is going to continue to grow.

Whenever a change like this happens it is natural to fight against the tide. As a restaurateur myself I was slow to adopt the dreaded tablet (now tablets). I didn’t want to deal with the same challenges as I was hearing from so many around me, and I am lucky enough to own a busy restaurant that makes a profit. I only went ahead and brought in the tablets when my customers started asking when they’d be able to order Town (my restaurant) at home.

The first several months were rocky. I honestly fought tooth and nail to try to make the services work the way we needed them to work in our restaurant. At some point along the way my past business experience got ahold of me and I realized I was the problem. GrubHub isn’t going to change to work the way Town wants it to, we needed to change to make it work.


To battle high commissions, we removed low margin menu items. This was comparatively easy because things like fresh seafood and grilled-to-temperature prime steaks don’t travel all that well anyway. I considered raising the pricing on the delivery menus but immediately discounted that. My sense is that the internet is ubiquitous and that this practice sends a bad message to my customers. I also took some time and analyzed every cost-oriented piece of the delivery equation: packaging, food prep and assembly, how orders got from the delivery network to our POS. I realized we could save money at every stage.


We have a people-first perspective at Town, so treating drivers well was never a problem for us. What surprised me was the stories I heard about how they were treated at other restaurants.

“They won’t let us use the restroom.”

…one driver told me one day when he was waiting on a dish during a rush in the dining room. “They make us stand out back and bring the orders out when they’re ready. We’re not even allowed to check.”

Honestly, I find this kind of behavior appalling. The driver is an important and often mistreated cog in the wheel of a smooth delivery operation. They may work for “Big Delivery Company”, but they’re human beings trying to make a living and they’re delivering our food. Let’s make a point of treating them with the respect they deserve.

This all came home to me on a recent night when one of the services had a software glitch in their system (from my perspective this happens way too often) and an order got canceled to us, but not to the drivers. No less than three drivers came to the restaurant to retrieve the phantom order. This takes critical time out of their evening and they don’t get paid for it. The pained expressions on their faces told me the story.

The well-worn and dreaded tablets.

The biggest problem for us to overcome is the damned tablet. It isn’t integrated to our POS, so when orders come in they need to be entered into our system so they can get fired, bagged, and tagged. Invariably they come in at times when we’re busy. Makes sense, right? People tend to order food when they’re hungry. They also tend to go out when they’re hungry. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when I have 15 to 20 tickets on the line and I get a “Large Order” notification from GrubHub. OrderMark, a systems company that integrates marketplace orders onto a single feed fixed some of the problems and I know that most of the delivery apps are also working on POS integration, so I think in time this challenge will solve itself, but in the meantime we’ve figured out a system that allows us to get the orders in quickly and without drama, so even this gets more manageable.

Change happens. Whether we like it or not, this change is upon us. Delivery is here to stay. Are there things that can make it work better for me as a restaurant or for us as an industry? You bet! But are there things we can do to make it work better even as it stands? Absolutely. The most important thing is to know we just need to adapt. Once we get moving, things will get easier and those who lead the charge will reap the benefits.

-Jim, @onwardjim-

header photo by Steyn Viljoen via Pexels

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