Restaurant Delivery And Food Safety: What Restaurants Need To Know

2020 was a challenging year for the restaurant industry. As the novel coronavirus swept the nation, QSRs rushed to rescue their business, while also meeting the needs of increasingly anxious customers, by adopting delivery services.

This rapid transformation meant few QSRs had a true opportunity to strategize and optimize internal processes for food delivery safety.

As delivery services continue to explode in 2021 and beyond, implementing a defined and data-driven food delivery safety strategy will not only protect your customers, but also drive revenue for your restaurant.

In this guide to developing a delivery-focused food safety strategy, we’ll share:

  • Why optimizing a food safety strategy for delivery orders is far more than a matter of compliance
  • 3 common delivery risks all food safety plans must combat
  • 5 effective ways to optimize your food delivery operations & maximize repeat orders

By the end, you’ll know how to implement an efficient food safety program that meets compliance requirements and transforms new customers into repeat buyers.

Food Delivery Safety: More Than a Compliance Checkbox

From meal kits to delivery apps, the stay-at-home orders caused by COVID-19 led to a major spike in online food and restaurant deliveries.

As a result, the online food delivery industry is expected to drive upwards of $28,486 million in revenue in 2021.

This drastic shift in consumer habits signals to QSRs that it’s time to fully embrace the shift to mobile ordering and delivery services. But, it’s important to note that this change must also come with a heightened focus on food safety. 

Yes, your restaurant should follow proper food safety procedures for compliance purposes. (After all, you need to pass inspections.) But, these procedures must also extend to your delivery services.

From ingredient preparation to the final handoff at the customer’s doorstep, every aspect of your delivery service must provide a repeatable, safe food experience for customers. 


It’s simple: Restaurants that take food safety seriously win over more customers.

The pandemic forced customers to be hyper-aware of food safety protocols. A mid-2020 global study showed that concern over food safety is at an all-time high, with 55% of consumers expressing concern. Another NRA study from December of 2020 revealed that 91% of customers expect even third-party delivery drivers to be well-versed in food safety protocols.

Restaurants that demonstrate their commitment to food safety and provide customers with a consistently safe experience have an easier time earning the trust of delivery customers. 

Once you earn the consumer’s trust, it evolves into tangible benefits including:

  • Repeat Orders – Once a customer knows they can rely on your restaurant to safely deliver delicious meals to their doorstep, they’ll continue to order from you and not the competition.
  • Good Reviews – Customers use online reviews to gauge whether or not they should place a food delivery order with a restaurant. Offering a positive and sanitary delivery experience leads to glowing online reviews from satisfied customers. More reviews = more delivery orders.
customer reviews

Following a food delivery safety plan not only guarantees that you can pass an inspection, but also fosters customer trust, which in turn, drives revenue.

Also Read: The 16 Top Food Safety Posters Every Restaurant Needs in 2021

3 Food Safety Risks Every Delivery Strategy Must Combat

As with any new product or service in the food and beverage industry, there are risks. When it comes to food delivery, however, all risks must be addressed immediately for the safety and health of your team and customers.

1. Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illnesses are defined by the CDC as disease-causing germs that can contaminate food and cause harm to consumers. To date, there are more than 250 possible foodborne illnesses identified by researchers. 

Foodborne illness outbreaks are not only unsanitary and harmful, they are costly. 

Chipotle—a QSR unfortunately notorious for foodborne illnesses—recently paid a $25 million fine for foodborne illness cases that caused approximately 1,100 customers to become ill. The brand has only recently recovered from its record sales drop in 2017 because of food safety failures, four years later.

Online food and meal kit delivery services are being linked to foodborne illness outbreaks as well. In 2018, a salmonella outbreak in China was traced back to online orders from the same restaurant using a delivery app.

Without a digital food safety checklist or comprehensive delivery strategy in place, your restaurant is at risk for a foodborne illness outbreak.

2. Restaurant Delivery vs. Food Delivery Apps: Which Option Ensures Food Safety & Reduces Risk?

Customers have endless food delivery options, thanks to third-party apps like DoorDash and UberEats.

But, restaurants have to decide: 

“Is it safer to rely on drivers from third-party food delivery apps or create an internal food delivery and online ordering system?”

There’s no right choice. But, it’s best to weigh the food safety pros and cons of each before making a decision. 

In-House Delivery Systems

QSRs always have the option of developing an in-house online ordering and delivery system. However, while you retain full control over the platform and delivery processes, these systems can be expensive to develop.

Full control of all food delivery & safety processesExpensive to develop an effective online ordering and tracking platform
Can assign delivery drivers from your internal teamIf something goes wrong with the food or delivery, it’s your responsibility to rectify the situation
No additional fees requiredRequires someone to manage all transactions, features, and activity

Food Delivery Apps

While riskier for restaurants, third-party apps offer the ultimate convenience for restaurants and customers. It’s up to your restaurant to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Convenient turning off and on of delivery ordersNo control over the choice of driver or driver protocols
Ability to reach new audiences through marketplace appsLimited control over the delivery process
Optimized delivery service already built for your businessPotential for driver risks such as food tampering and temperature fluctuations due to AC/heat, long-distance drives, or multiple stops.
3. Food Packaging

Food temperature is a major component—and risk—in an effective food safety plan. And, the packaging you use to deliver food to the customer plays a significant role in maintaining proper temperature levels.

Food delivery packaging must:

  • Protect the integrity and structure of the meal 
  • Maintain a consistent food temperature throughout the drive
  • Prevent spills and tampering

It’s tempting to buy the cheapest containers available, but is the cost savings worth increasing your risk of a food safety issue? Absolutely not.

5 Ways Restaurants Can Optimize Delivery Operations for Food Safety

Eliminate risks and room for error while guaranteeing peace of mind for customers by optimizing your food delivery plan with these safety tactics.

Assign Food Delivery Specialists: Reduce Errors

Identify trustworthy members of your team who can operate as designated food delivery specialists. 

These individuals will serve as your team’s “go-to” people for all things related to delivery services—they own delivery quality assurance—and are responsible for: 

  • Organizing all food pickup stations with proper hot/cold storage temperatures 
  • Ensuring each order is completed correctly, safely, and according to customer specifications
  • Communicating with third-party platforms and drivers to guarantee an on-time delivery

These team members must also be well-versed in:

  • Food allergy concerns
  • Food safety protocols
  • Proper food temperature levels
  • Food delivery processes
food delivery

Ask each food delivery specialist to also complete a ServSafe online course to guarantee they have a comprehensive knowledge of food safety.

Food Storage & Temperature: Track Everything

Among the top delivery customer complaints is cold food.

And, on top of unsatisfied customers, improper food temperatures can lead to food sickness and bacteria growth. For reference, foods should always be stored and received at the following temperatures:

  • Hot Food: 135°F (57° C) or higher
  • Cold Food: 41°F (5° C) or lower
  • Frozen Food: Delivered in a frozen solid state

Optimize your food delivery safety plan by implementing an automated restaurant temperature monitoring system to record temperatures and trigger corrective action alerts.

A remote temperature monitoring system ensures that all food—whether ingredients stored in the prep refrigerator or a food delivery order waiting under the heat lamp—is kept at the proper temperature without the need for old-school logbooks.

And, if something does go wrong, you’ll receive an automatic email or text alert to fix the situation ASAP.

With such a system in place, you’ll have ample temperature data to back up your claims in the case of a customer complaint or delivery error.

Remember to keep your food temperatures consistent and storage areas safe by:

  • Minimizing wait times between packaging and pickup
  • Sanitizing pickup areas regularly
  • Storing delivery orders away from in-store customers or order counters to eliminate additional exposure chances
  • Packaging hot and cold food items separately to avoid a temperature change

Also Read: Restaurant Temperature Logging: Here Is What Inspectors Want To See

Food Packaging: Temperature Safety & Tamper-Proof Options

First and foremost, your delivery orders should always be packaged with customer and delivery driver safety in mind.

Food packaging best practices include:

  • Separating items by temperature. Cold and hot items should never travel in the same bag. The rapid temperature changes are a breeding ground for bacteria! Always place items of the same temperature in the same bag.
  • Use sturdy packaging materials. Spills and ingredient cross-contamination can result in dangerous situations for the restaurant, delivery driver, and customer. Durable containers help eliminate the need for drivers to touch or handle the food in any manner.
  • Use multiple bags. To avoid cross-contamination and maintain proper temperatures, package the food into plastic bags and place each bag into a larger, outer bag. 

Another key element of safe food packaging is tamper-proof seals.

A 2019 study from US Foods discovered that 1 in 4 delivery drivers admit to eating part of your order! What customer wouldn’t be upset to find half of the french fries missing from their order?

To combat this, restaurants stick tamper-proof seals on delivery bags and containers. A broken seal indicates evidence of food tampering. 

Tamper-proof seals and stickers not only reduce risk but also work to foster customer trust by proving your restaurant’s commitment to food takeout safety.

Delivery Drivers: Ensuring Food Safety Compliance Through the Final Drop Off

After you’ve accepted the order, prepared the food, and stored it properly to wait for pickup, the delivery driver is the last hurdle standing in the way of a safe food delivery.

We suggest asking all drivers to:

  • Wash their hands before pickup
  • Use hand sanitizer before and after deliveries
  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize their car
  • Wear a mask at all times while picking food up, driving, and delivering
  • Securely store and transport food according to temperature
  • Maintain a neutral temperature inside the vehicle

If using your own fleet of drivers, be sure to regularly review defined safety protocols and equip their vehicles with everything they need for a sanitary delivery. This can include drink holders, ice packs, insulated containers, and dividers if allergies are a concern.

Customer Communication: Eliminate Concerns & Educate Consumers

The best way to optimize your food delivery safety plan is by communicating clearly with customers.

Effective and efficient customer communication includes:

  • Allowing customers to include food allergy information while ordering online 
  • Knocking on the door & texting customers to reduce the time that their food sits outside
  • Providing clear instructions on how to freeze, refrigerate, or reheat food at home
  • Giving delivery drivers clear drop-off instructions from the customer (leave at door, don’t knock, call upon arrival, etc.)

Remember, it’s all about building trust and earning repeat orders! Go the extra mile and be sure to display your food safety protocols across social media, review sites, and your restaurant’s website.

Master Safe Restaurant Delivery With Digital Food Safety Systems

In a world riddled with anxiety thanks to a pandemic, we look to food from our favorite restaurants as a comfort and escape. 

By executing an optimized food safety plan, you prove that customers can trust your restaurant for safe, repeatable, and on-time online food delivery. 

Eliminate the guesswork and run a tight food delivery operation that drives more orders with optimized digital food safety checklists, remote temperature monitoring, and automated alerts.

👉 Provide customers peace of mind and increase repeat orders for your restaurant with digital food safety solutions from Squadle.