In an interview for the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s “Cricket Conversations” series, former GrubHub President and Seamless CEO, Jonathan Zabusky gave his thoughts on the direct to consumer industry and how he thinks various platforms will radically transform the ways restaurants and small businesses interact with customers as we move forward in a post-COVID 19 environment.

Zabusky began his career with the Boston Consulting Group before he joined Aramark in 2007 and eventually became CEO of recently acquired Seamless. Seamless is an online ordering platform that allows users to receive delivery and personal takeout orders from restaurants in cities like New York City, Miami, and Chicago. With the rise of mobile commerce and 3rd party delivery services in the early 2010’s, Seamless merged with GrubHub in 2013, where Zabusky would eventually serve as the company’s president.

Direct to consumer mobile ordering opened the door for 3rd party companies like UberEats, Doordash, and more. Zabusky goes on to discuss the shift from the outdated ways of “marketing” restaurants to customers that included “shoving menus under doors” to the natural progression of these platforms essentially becoming the digital marketing arm for these businesses. In offering a delivery service for restaurants, they were also allowing brands to push their marketing messages to the masses, connecting and maintaining relationships with existing and new customers through email campaigns, while also building a world class online ordering experience. Increasing reach and improving efficiency on behalf of these restaurants is really the purpose these ordering services provide.

This digital shift that we expected to occur over the next 4-5 years has been sped up by significantly COVID-19. Customers want to feel safe and brands want to do their part to show their communities they are taking all the proper precautionary steps while also extending their digital footprint, with their larger audience just a few clicks away.

”90% of guests research a restaurant online before dining—more than any other business type.” –

If your customers can’t find you, they can’t support you.

Here are a few ways I think businesses can embrace this new normal as an opportunity not a threat, connect with their customers, and position their brand for post COVID-19 growth.

1. Define your business goals

I think the best place to start is with the actual goals of your business:

  • What are the most important problems you’re facing?
  • Are you looking for more customers?
  • Do you want to strengthen relationships with already existing customers?
  • Did COVID-19 force you to let some of your employees go due to lack of revenue?

From there you can zero in on the things that are holding your business back and begin to take steps to correct them.

2. Establish your digital footprint

Listen. Wether your goals are covered in any of the questions above, one thing they all have in common is that your business needs to be accessible to your customers online. And the first places they will look is in search, social media, and these 3rd party platforms we talked about earlier. Wether it’s building a social media profile, creating a website, or integrating your business with a 3rd party platform like GrubHub, Ubereats, or Square, your customers need to be able to find you in order to support you.

As Jonathan describes in his interview, these platforms are great for allowing restaurants and businesses to offer online delivery services to reach a whole group of delivery-specific customers that you’d otherwise never connect with. But with these platforms, comes monthly commissions and delivery fees that can interfere with the relationship between a customer and a business. But finding new customers through these platforms is a great way to establish your presence and then slowly transition into applications that integrate directly into your businesses website to allow for a more seamless and direct to consumer experience. 70% of consumers prefer to order directly from restaurants, not third-party services according to statistics published by

3. Grow with your audience

Once your customers can interact with businesses directly from their smart phone, tablet, or desktop with a user-friendly ordering platform or website, you can begin to analyze how you can improve your brand experience and cater to your customer in more ways than just serving them a great product. You can now begin to collect user generated content like customer reviews to improve your product, market to existing and new customers through email campaigns and social media marketing, and track that data to pivot and improve your relationship and become more efficient as you focus on the day to day operations of a business.

Jonathan also mentions something very interesting about his experiences in NAPA Valley at various wineries and the idea of a contactless dining experience. One way of doing this is by setting up seating areas that include QR codes (formerly iPads on tables) directly on tables in front of customers that allows them to take a picture of the code and instantly launch the restaurant website on their mobile device. This makes a ton of sense for restaurants and businesses that require patrons to think through their choices and educate themselves before any decisions are made. Especially in restaurants with a menu that changes often or requires a library of information for a server to remember. A QR code allows the customer to read through detailed menu options, see where the ingredients came from, and more. This is a customer oriented approach to the dining experience that I can’t help but think will be part of this digital shift going forward.

In conclusion, Jonathan really does a great job of not only establishing the fact that the restaurant and hospitality industry is changing to a more customer driving digital experience, but outlines exactly how these businesses can reinvest resources from the traditional, in person experience that will have people weighing their health and safety going forward. And as businesses begin to reopen, you need to be at the very least considering some of these reallocations of resources to a more safety-focused,  contactless dining experience, either from home or in your restaurant.

Give me a call at (570) 780-3176  or email me at, I’d love to discuss how your business can embrace this new shift in a cost effective way and become even more accessible to your audience.