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Experiencing Your Customers' Online Ordering Experience

Carl Orsbourn & Meredith Sandland

Amidst the restaurant industry's current challenges, including a labor shortage, supply-chain interruption, and keeping pace with the online ordering and delivery boom, the quality of our customers' "digital experience" has not accelerated as fast as the technologies that promise to enhance it.

In other words, our customers and guests tell us they are experiencing a less-than-satisfactory level of hospitality. In the wake of the pandemic, every chain executive and restaurant owner we talk to poses the same question about digital customer service. That is, "how do I get my customers to order directly from my restaurant ("first-party" transactions) rather than ordering via third-party delivery platforms?"

As many members and readers of this magazine learned, having a presence on third-party platforms can be critical to surviving the "new normal". (A member survey conducted by indicated a number of respondents referred to third-party as a "necessary evil", with "necessary" being the operative word.)

In fact, according to DoorDash, a restaurant unit on its platform was eight times more likely to survive the pandemic than one that wasn't. Now that restaurants are gradually returning to something that approximates pre-pandemic normal, and owners' perspectives have shifted from surviving to thriving, many restaurants want their business to be less tethered to third-party ordering.

As restaurants embrace the new consumer habits around interacting with restaurants digitally, the question of how to engage consumers directly is top of mind. Our book, Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Your Roadmap to the Future of Food compares the profitability of first- and third-party ordering and the benefits of collecting data on consumer ordering preferences. Among the many take-home points of our book: First-party ordering is a critical part of becoming a leading digital restaurant, even as the restaurants continue to embrace the incremental orders coming through third-party channels.

Be Your Own Secret Shopper

Think about your own experience as a consumer. You expect things to just work. You expect to be able to find what you need, order it quickly, and have it show up in perfect condition in a short amount of time. Amazon has trained all of us in "IWWIWWIWI" (I want what I want when I want it). "One-click ordering" has spoiled all consumers into thinking everything should be as easy. Count the clicks. The more steps a consumer has to make to get what they want, the more difficult they will find ordering from your restaurant.

All successful operators study their market, guests, staff and management to discover their concepts strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats. They often secret shop their restaurant and pay friends and family or outside firms to do the same. They pay keen attention to reviews on Yelp and Google, replying to some and looking for patterns of issues to address among all. The key to driving consumer adoption of your first-party ordering systems – via your website or app – is to apply this same attention to detail to your digital consumer journey. And you will benefit from experiencing the ordering process on every channel your customers use to order from your restaurant – DoorDash, UberEats, Grubhub, Postmates, phone calls, mobile site, website, app.

Compare the consumer experience of different channels and challenge yourself – if you were a consumer, no matter how loyal to your brand and keen to support your restaurant – would you put yourself through the hassle required to order direct from your restaurant?

Until your first-party ordering process is as easy (or easier!) than ordering from the third-party platforms, no amount of marketing, discounting or other incentives will convince a consumer to take the time to order directly from you. In fact, discounting may be counter-productive by diminishing the cache of your brand, encouraging the third parties to spend their vast marketing budgets in direct counter-campaigns, and training your customer to only order from your restaurant when a deal is available. Discounts will never overcome friction, except perhaps for a few unprofitable and disloyal customers who are willing to go out of their way to get a deal.


First-party ordering matters to both your guests and your business. Many operators have invested heavily in marketing and promotion to drive first-party orders; however, many are experiencing little or no return. And this would contradict consumer surveys that indicate consumers prefer to order direct from restaurants. Consider the survey (Search: Third-party delivery is growing, but restaurant consumers don't prefer it (, in which 63% of respondents indicated a preference for first-party delivery orders.

While the very best digital restaurants – including chains like Starbucks, Chipotle, McDonald's, Panera, Wingstop and Chick-fil-A – derive 75% or more of their digital sales through their first-party channels – most restaurants hover between 0 and 30%.

Of course, these large national (and international) chain concepts have spent millions of dollars on their first-party platforms, and employ operators and process engineers to optimize the consumer digital experience to pioneer the way. In the main article, the authors illustrate how understanding your guests' digital journey can allow your independent operation to follow their lead and help your restaurant achieve digital success, without spending millions.


Your guests' digital journey has eight steps, according to Carl Orsbourn and Meredith Sandland, co-authors of Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Your Roadmap to the Future of Food.

  1. What the digital restaurant consumer is seeking in terms of concept and cuisine.

  2. Will the digital restaurant consumer choose first- or third-party ordering?

  3. Will the digital restaurant consumer prefer to fulfill the order via delivery or pickup?

  4. Which specific menu items do the digital restaurant consumers want?

  5. How does the digital restaurant consumer wish to pay, and what are the various electronic payment methods?

  6. The order-to-delivery process – time, transparency, communication.

  7. How the food is packaged – its suitability for delivery and off-premises consumption.

  8. How the brand communicates with the consumer post-purchase.

The authors have analyzed each of these steps and are prepared to explore each in detail in a subsequent installment of "Digital Hospitality". Let us know which of these steps are of the most interest to you at or directly to Orsbourn and Sandland at

Order the book directly from the authors at: You may download the first chapter at no cost to you.


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