U.K.-based food delivery service Deliveroo launched a new feature this week that sounds convenient on the surface but could cause some problems for more than one party in the restaurant biz. This “Table Service” feature, as it’s dubbed, is meant “to help restaurants reopen safely to dine-in customers and help the recovery of the sector,” according to a company blog post. The feature is available on July 15.
In terms of how it works, the feature is simple: Customers sit down at the cafe, restaurant, or bar, pull up the existing Deliveroo app, and order their food with the Table Service feature, rather than directly interfacing with a server. Payment also happens in the app, so that all the restaurant staff (theoretically) have to do is cook the food and bring it out to the table.
Here’s the good of this new way of operating dining rooms:
If you’re an existing Deliveroo user, it’s convenient. You don’t have to download yet-another mobile ordering app, and since this is table service, not delivery, the extra fees third-party services tack onto orders should be minimal. Deliveroo also said in its blog post it will charge zero commission fee to the restaurant on these orders.
Without a doubt, there is also a level of social distancing built into this concept that will be safer for both restaurants and customers. Being able to sit down and order a meal from your phone gets rid of long lines and crowding near a cash register, and it does, to a degree, minimize customer-to-server interactions.
But on that note, here’s what’s less awesome about Deliveroo’s new feature:
It’s not as socially distanced as the hype would have you believe. Someone has to run the food and be available to refill drinks or assist if there is a problem with the meal. (“I said fries, not salad!”)
This isn’t a Deliveroo-specific problem. All restaurants and restaurant tech solutions have to account for the fact that in any sit-down dining experience, you can’t get away from at least some customer-to-staff interactions. I don’t think Deliveroo, or any company, is promising to completely eradicate those interactions. The company blog post specifically says “minimising in-person contact.” Even so, it’s something to keep in mind as more companies come to market with these contactless solutions for dining rooms.
More worrying is what a feature like Deliveroo’s Table Service means for restaurant tech companies. Like I said, tech companies, and even non-tech companies, offering contactless dining room solutions have multiplied in the last several weeks. Sevenrooms, Presto, Zuppler, this signage company, and many others offer restaurants the technical means to let guests order and pay from their phones in the dining room. Paytronix has a system that even lets you keep your virtual “tab” — that is, ticket — open so you can order another round of drinks or dessert without making multiple transactions.
If third-party delivery starts offering order and pay features for the dining room en masse, it could be a serious competitive threat for these companies.
Most alarming about this new feature is what it means for customer data. Ownership of customer data is already seen as a huge issue with third-party delivery services. If restaurants can’t see data about what their customers are ordering, when they’re doing it, etc., they’re less able to cater to exactly what those customers want when it comes to food.
Deliveroo owning the customer data in the dining room could potentially mean restaurants wouldn’t get the feedback they need to deliver good service that’s enjoyable and simultaneously safe in this pandemic-stricken era.
A while back, one restaurant tech CEO told me that the COVID-19 pandemic should be treated as “a wakeup call” for restaurants when it comes to their data. In his view, these restaurants need to “to rethink how they’re connecting digitally with their customers.” This is likely to become even more important going forward as governments encourage contactless technologies in restaurants and more customers gravitate towards using their phones for browsing and buying from restaurant menus.
So before you restaurants go signing up for Deliveroo’s new model for the dining room, consider first your digital relationship to your customers, how you treat your customer data, and, most important, how willing you are to part with it when it comes to the newly reopened dining room.