An Open Letter to Food Delivery Recipients

Photo by Qusai Akoud on Unsplash

Oh, food delivery. When I was a kid you could order pizza or you could order Chinese food. In either case, drivers who worked for the restaurant delivered the food. Someone took an order over the phone, I assume it got written down and sent to the kitchen, made and packed and sent through a driver. It never occurred to me to complain unless I got the wrong order completely or it was very slow and even then, I gave the restaurant a chance to make it right.

We live in a world where people seem to carry stress and frustration that gets released when someone “wrongs” them and where social media is an outlet for rage.

As the partner of a restaurant owner, I want to explain the process of food delivery — from order to door — what you should expect, and where things can go wrong.

The process, order-to-door

  1. Customer orders food via website or app.
  2. The request immediately arrives in the restaurant’s kitchen and displayed on a mobile device such as a tablet. There also a printer that spits out a piece of paper with the order. This is added to the order queue.
  3. The kitchen staff begins to make the order as soon as they can, which might mean immediately, or it might mean when they’re done with their current orders. →Promptness is important to us. Hungry people don’t like waiting for food.
  4. At our restaurant, the food is packed into containers and a brown paper bag, onto which an order # — and sometimes the customer name — is written in Sharpie. The order is immediately placed into a thermal box that keeps food at its original temperature for hours.
    If drinks are part of the order, these are put on top of the box. The serving staff is made aware that the drinks are there so that if they greet the driver, they can hand them the drinks too. (Drinks are most likely to be forgotten.)
  5. The driver picks up the food. The delivery service and order # (and name if there is one provided) are confirmed and cross-referenced with the driver. →This way we know that we’re sending the food to the right person.
  6. Thermal bags are required. Some of the delivery services automatically have their drivers bring a bag. In those cases, if a driver comes inside without a bag, they’re sent back to their car to get it. We have one delivery service with drivers who don’t all carry bags. We used to turn the bagless drivers away, but now we put a sticker on the food bag that says, “Sorry, your driver didn’t have a thermal bag.” → This is because we want the food arriving at its destination at its original temperature.
    We don’t want the food arriving at its destination cold. The customer doesn’t want the food arriving cold. The delivery driver might or might not give a shit.
    (I love it when they give a shit.)

We also insist that the driver holds the bag level if they’re not already. When food gets jostled it risks getting ruined.

Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

What can go wrong

  1. Technology fails.

In one case, the printer wasn’t working and the kitchen staff misread a tablet screen. They packed one each of two items, whereas the customer had ordered two of each. The customer was given an incomplete order and called to have it fixed. He called repeatedly during the dinner rush but no one answered because it was a busy evening and no one heard the phone. One of the reasons that no one heard the phone was that one of the two cordless phones wasn’t working because I’d unplugged it in the morning because I needed the outlet and forgot to plug it back in.

This customer took to a review site to complain. Replying on behalf of the restaurant, I validated his frustration (“we’d be upset too”), apologized, and assured him that steps were being taken to keep it from happening again.
I was sincere in my response. These were the restaurant’s mistakes. The kitchen misread. I forgot to plug in the phone. A lot of things were working against the customer.

In another case, one of the ordering systems had a glitch in it. EVERY ORDER was coming in showing “double fries” (or maybe it was double something else) and not displaying another part properly. If I recall correctly, there were three of those. Someone who received an incorrect order — but exactly the order that arrived at the kitchen — called to complain, and told my boyfriend that her husband was going to kick my boyfriend’s ass. Hungry people can be cranky.

She also took to Facebook, where I replied with compassion, showed a photo the chit that showed the order as seen in the kitchen, and declared that violence is not tolerated. (They always deny that violence was threatened.)

2. The driver never delivers the food or delivers an incomplete order.

While I’ve never experienced this, we’ve heard horror stories about drivers eating the food, especially later in the evening. It gets packed at the restaurant but never arrives.

3. The customer changes their mind

From the top of this story:

The request immediately arrives in the restaurant’s kitchen and displayed on a mobile device such as a tablet.


The kitchen staff begins to make it as soon as they can, which might mean immediately.

Sorry customers, if you place an order online, be sure you’ve ordered what you want. If it’s your mistake (you clicked the wrong button, for example), that’s on you.

If you call the restaurant because you changed your mind about what you want to eat or where you want it from, the kitchen isn’t likely to cancel your order. Chances are, it’s already prepared and it might already be in the thermal box, ready for pick up. Your driver might already be on their way. Take it up with the delivery service if you want.

We’ve had customers call to change or cancel their order while their driver was in the restaurant picking up.

“What do you want us to do with your food, then?”

“I don’t know, give it to someone else?”

And if no one orders any of what’s in the bag?

4. The food isn’t what the customer expected

It happens, and sometimes people want their money back because they don’t like what they got or it wasn’t what they expected, even if they received exactly what they ordered.

Maybe they thought that a half pound was bigger, or maybe they thought they were getting a full-sized order when they specifically asked for a side order. Or maybe they remembered a dish differently because they’re confusing our restaurant with another one. Those first two scenarios have happened, the third scenario is a possibility.

Trust us, most of the time, the kitchen packed exactly what was requested. Sometimes they misread, sometimes they’re not paying attention. Sometimes they fuck up. It’s rare, though.

This brings us to…

Notes on etiquette

1. As related to the technology and in general: Acknowledge that shit happens and that the kitchen staff are human beings.

We all strive to be our best and to deliver 100%.

However, kitchens have times when they’re slammed with orders. Technology fails. Tired chefs who had a bad night of sleep due to nighmares or insomnia slip up. Other things go wrong. Bad things often happen in threes. It’s not the end of the world. You didn’t get everything you ordered? That genuinely sucks, but someone out there had a worse day than you did. You’re inconvenienced but you’re around to be inconvenienced.
(I’m thinking specifically of this recent day when I was busy as a server, one customer was abusive and two people left negative reviews.)

2. As related to expectations and changing minds

We get it. You like what you like. You want what you want. However, dear delivery customers, you can’t get a refund because you didn’t like it or it wasn’t what you expected.

I came up with an analogy once, mid-conversation with a server, and it sort of fell out of my mouth:

It’s food, not a sweater. You can’t decide that you don’t want it or like it, and then return it for a refund.

Sometimes I make statements that I think are clever and then I add them to my repertoire.

If a customer in the restaurant says that they didn’t like something or it wasn’t what they expected, they might get a replacement. One of the disadvantages of delivery is that you don’t have that immediate connection to the dining room and kitchen.

You ordered the food. You’re getting it. If you don’t want it, save it for another meal or give it to someone in need. Don’t let your ego or your low blood sugar make you hostile. Don’t leave it with us to deal with (either it will be thrown out or a staff member will take it). You could throw it out if you want, but please don’t.

2. If you have an issue, call and/or email. You might need to be persistent or patient for a few days. Try to resolve it 1:1. Don’t be antagonistic.

I wrote this in July about social media bullying:

An “influencer” with 10,000 followers once trashed him on Instagram, after phoning the restaurant and making that threat because my spouse wouldn’t provide a refund for the food that the displeased customer had ordered from a delivery service. The food always leaves the restaurant in perfect condition — kept hot in a thermal box until it’s picked up, even — but sometimes the driver jostles the food or worse. The kitchen team looked into it. Everything was correct on their end.

When we ran the influencer’s account through a few online tools, they all estimated that at least 63% of the followers weren’t real (indicating “bought bots”).

Instead of a refund, my spouse offered a free meal, an offer which the customer complained about on a review site.

There have been a few threats of violence too, of kicking his ass. Truthfully, which one of these is more of a motivator to leave home?

  • Getting food to eat
  • Assaulting the person responsible for making it.

These pieces of etiquette advice can be summarized as this:

Other things to know

The prices on our delivery menu are higher than those on our dine-in menu. This is not because we want to screw you. Each delivery service charges us a hefty service fee and if we didn’t charge a higher price on delivery, we’d lose money on it. Think of it as a convenience fee for the food coming to you. Another perspective: You save money by leaving your house. I understand wanting to stay in on a snowy day like today. And families who can’t get a babysitter, and people who are sick. There are lots of situations when you just don’t want to, or can’t, go out. However, if you can, please do. The food will be better and cost less. The interaction will be good. Your server might be super charismatic. The beer and cocktails will be fantastic (or order water — I don’t mind).

I’ve discovered that I rarely regret going out, even when I have to push myself to do it. I recently had the best time catching up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in years, on a rainy evening. I’d been napping. I didn’t want to go out again. He was coming from another city (a suburb of mine, really) and we were meeting up at an event hosted by a mutual friend from an even farther city, a couple of provinces away. I told him that he’s the reason I made it out. He told me that he’d been napping too and that it also took him some self-talk to move his butt.

We’re all doing our best. You, me, everyone.

Digital Marketing Manager | Freelance Writer | ADHD Coach for adults | Available for hire.