Online platforms hope to entice diners to show up and eat out, but how well do they work?

By Tim Nelson
November 27, 2019
Courtesy of Orchids at Palm Court  

As a society, it’s increasingly apparent that we are addicted to delivery. Subsequently, there’s an ever-increasing range of delivery apps, takeout-only restaurants ready to cater to our whims. Hell, even Ikea wants to try and drop off some Swedish meatballs for you.

That craving for convenience has put many traditional restaurants with dining rooms in a bind. Though the National Restaurant Association estimates that the restaurant industry will do $863 billion in sales in 2019, 38% of consumers report that they’re “more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were two years ago,” while 44% say they ordered delivery or takeout via a restaurant app or website in the past year.

Combined with more modest growth rates, those trends have led an increasing number of eateries are turning to online platforms of their own, hoping that discounts can convince diners to put on pants and physically show up to eat. Seated is paying diners up to 30% back when they make a reservation at a restaurant and sit down to eat, redeemable for credit with Lyft, Amazon, Starbucks and more. Craved will pay for a portion of the check, and booking certain reservations through OpenTable yields reward points that can be cashed in during a later restaurant visit.

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For restaurateurs like Nicola Marzovilla, who owns I Trulli in Manhattan, paying a few bucks per guest to get butts in seats via these platforms during the off hours outside of 5:30 to 8:30 PM. “Once you’re open, your expenses are fixed, so any added income helps,” he told NBC News. Of course, he laments that such arrangements come with a price attached. “Doing 10 extra covers at the end of they day, on top of our business is very helpful. Paying the fee? Not something that we enjoy.”

Of course, the challenge is turning those who take advantage of a one-time deal into repeat customers. Without any sort of discount or kickback next time around, will hungry patrons make the trek when it might be even easier just to order delivery? That part is ultimately up to how well things go once a patron gets through the door. But either way, don’t be surprised if at some point in the future you see a deal for dining out so good that you have no choice but to deliver yourself to the restaurant.