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How to differentiate your business in the food delivery marketplace

Published September 15, 2022

The restaurant industry's third-party food delivery space is a crowded one, with DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates and UberEats taking up most of the online space. Spurred by the instability of in-person dining due to the pandemic, restaurant takeout and delivery apps were embraced out of necessity by most restaurants during the COVID-19 indoor dining closures. However, there's no doubt that third-party delivery marketplaces are here to stay — and an integral part of most restaurants' business plans.

Having a robust takeout business is necessary for many restaurants' financial stability. After all, if you're not consistently filling up the dining room or you don't have the staff to run a full restaurant, you still need to make ends meet by selling more food. And consumers like the food delivery model too, mainly because it's convenient and quick. According to the IMARC Group, the global online food delivery market reached $106.1 billion in U.S. dollars in 2021, and IMARC is predicting the market to reach even higher to $223.7 billion by 2027, for a growth rate (CAGR) of 11.44% from 2022-2027.

To make it in this new high-stakes delivery market, your restaurant and its menu items need to stand out. Here are five ways to get your restaurant and its dishes to the top of a hungry diners' queue on food delivery apps. 

1. Improve your food photography game.

Nothing can kill an appetite and cause a prospective diner to click away faster than unappealing food photos. Consider hiring a food photographer to take shots of all the food you list for delivery. But, note that professional photography is a marketing expense, generally costing anywhere from $150 to $400 an hour. It could be worth investing in, though. A great photographer is going to find a way to help your dishes stand out and pop in photos.

According to GrubHub, switching from a text-based to photo-based menu can increase conversion rates — or the rate that viewers become purchasers — by up to 25%. Simply having great food isn't enough, you'll need good menu item photos to make your third party food delivery integration a success.

If you want to try and do it yourself, follow these tips to take good photos of your menu items:

  • Pay attention to lighting — For DIY photography, natural lighting is usually best, and diffused natural light (such as on a cloudy day) will create fewer shadows and better color contrast than direct sun or bright overhead lights. Try to position your dishes on a table or space near a window that gets good light.
  • Use a consistent simple background — You want these pictures to be easily scannable and there's no need to distract with a funky background. Use something like wood or a white background for minimal distractions. And make sure the plates that your food is on matches your brand and looks clean.
  • Edit your photos — If you're taking photos with a phone camera, using the in-phone editing app can do the trick (that iPhone Auto Enhance or magic wand editing button really is magic). On a computer there are plenty of programs that'll quickly clean up your shots. Generally, you'll want to lighten the photos you take for more pop. Dim, dark photos don't work well online.

2. Get creative with limited time offers and special deals.

Everybody loves a deal. And in the age of sky-high inflation, consumers certainly aren't shy about shopping around for the best buys on delivery food. Offering deals can help your restaurant stand out, especially if the app you're using has a "special deals" section where your deals will be automatically highlighted if a user chooses that option. You might cater your deals to the type of customer you're looking to attract — new customers are likely to be swayed by free items, especially a “buy one get one free” deal, while returning customers might be attracted with a "spend $25, save $5" type promotion.

Another strategy for successful third-party food delivery integration is to create a family meal that bundles several menu items into a single price. For example, at a barbecue restaurant, you might have a family meal deal that offers two pounds of meat, plus four sides and cornbread for a fixed (discounted) price. It'll help with decision making on the consumer end, too. Or give different themes a go for your discounts. Experiment to see what drives the type of business you're looking for. 

3. Get smart about menu engineering.

Simply put, restaurant engineering is creating a menu in which each item helps to drive growth and profit. You may want to highlight popular, high revenue items at the top of your online menu to drive ordering. You might also choose to only list certain items on your delivery app menu and keep the lower performing ones off entirely.

Keep in mind that data and inventory management are important tools for getting the information you need to create a menu that pleases the customer and makes money for the restaurant. You'll also want to lean on good inventory management techniques, which helps to eliminate food waste and streamline ordering so you never have too many or too few ingredients. Use tools like a real-time analytics app to forecast sales and pull up past sales and order data quickly.

Related: Third-Party Delivery Services: How do you improve your consistency?

4. Work for those 4+ star reviews.

Yes, ratings matter on third-party food delivery apps, and you'll want yours to be as high as possible. If you've spent any time at all reading customer complaints online about restaurant delivery, you'll know that the following are essential in getting and keeping a 4+ star review. Here are a few ways to ensure top ratings on any online marketplace:

  • Speed. While you can't control the amount of time the delivery person takes to get the food to the customer, you can get the food out of the kitchen quickly and into the hands of the driver on time. Make sure you've got a clear line of communication, both between you and the app delivery drivers and between you and the customers in the case of delays.
  • Accuracy. No customer is going to be happy if they don't get what they ordered. Double-check every order before it goes out to make sure nothing's missing and everything's as expected.
  • No surprises. Your menu item photos should accurately depict what the customer is getting, both in quantity and quality. The dating app advice of under promising and over delivering comes into play here. And if your prices aren't in line with the food you're serving, customers will likely ding you on the ratings.
  • Responsive to complaints. If you see a lot of ratings criticizing the same thing (the buns are too small, not enough cheese on the pizza, skimpy side of fries), pay attention and adjust your menu items or service accordingly. Your ratings will go up once common issues are addressed.

5. Encourage new reviews on an ongoing basis.

While there's no magic wand for getting user reviews, customers generally post a review when they love something or hate it. Going out of your way to make the customer experience flawless from start to finish will help you get the kind of review you're seeking, as will offering a little something extra.

Maybe it's a complimentary cookie or a hand-written thank-you note requesting an in-app review, but whatever you choose, adding the occasional extra into a delivery bag can go a long way into garnering a 4+ star review, especially from loyal customers. After all, they like your food and want you to stay in business and they know that new reviews are key to winning the third-party food delivery game.

Implementing these five tactics for making your third-party food delivery shine will generate more sales from existing customers and help gain new ones, too. Delivery is here to stay, so why not make the most of it and boost your business in the process?

When your restaurant is backed by NCR VOYIX, it's simple to stay out front.

Whether that's literally up front with your customers, or out front of your competition.

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