Case Study: ezCater

Designing a human-centered reliability system to improve outcomes for customers

ezCater UI Design
ezCater UI Design

ezCater is the #1 online catering marketplace worldwide.

After over a decade online, is well-established the "food for work" solution of choice for thousands of companies nationwide.

As a marketplace, ezCater is faced with the classic challenge: they're selling a great customer experience, but they have no direct control over the supply-side behavior of caterers on the platform. Unreliable behavior from the restaurants — late delivery, missing food, lost delivery drivers — hurts customer trust.

In June 2021, I joined ezCater as a Senior Product Designer for Supply and promptly immersed myself in the reliability conundrum. This came right in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when restaurants were struggling with supply and staffing issues that threatened their businesses. I partnered with a product manager to define an impactful solution to the reliability problem.

The system we developed, designed and implemented was directly responsible for a 13% improvement in order reliability overall and an annualized total win of over $10M.


User Research

Interviewing restaurant managers and conducting field observation of ezCater order fulfillment and deliveries.

Collaborative Solution Definition

Working with stakeholders to define the dimensions of the problem and the shape of our solution.

System Mapping

Defining a solution plan that touched multiple areas of the marketplace, allowing us to develop a functional system rather than an isolated feature.

Report Design for Restaurants

Wireframing and designing new reporting views for restaurants to understand their current performance.

Search Results Design for Marketplace

Wireframing and designing new marketplace views to distinguish and boost our most reliable catering partners.

Pilot Monitoring

Evaluating initial program results and iterating for maximum impact.

ezCater Reliability Reporting designs

Powerful reporting drives impactful change

The Reliability Reporting feature allows caterers to track their performance in meeting delivery and quality commitments. Caterers can view their performance data in a dashboard that shows their on-time delivery rate, order accuracy rate, and customer satisfaction rate.

User Research

An effective solution to this complex problem required a deep understanding of caterers' needs and pain points. After all, caterers want to provide good service — what was getting in their way?

With the help of ezCater’s data analysts, I investigated the breakdown of reliability issues by looking at aggregated, coded reports from customer service. We found our reliability sat around 79%, meaning that about 1 in 5 orders were late, missing items, or otherwise fell short of quality threshold. The most common issues we identified were late delivery, early delivery, and inaccurate order contents.

What was going on with the caterers to cause this issue? As the UX advocate on the team, I visited several of our active restaurants to observe operations and interview individuals to understand their workflows and pain points.

We found that persistent issues with staffing were affecting delivery in particular, but also that some aspects of the ezCater system itself were setting our caterers up to fail:

Too many orders to handle

Sometimes, caterers would get more orders than they could handle in one day, stretching their resources too thin for high-quality fulfillment. ezCater provided no way to “turn off” their availability when they reached capacity for a given day.

Missing essential information for delivery

Because our checkout process didn’t require certain fields relating to delivery location, drivers often struggled to find the location or reach the customer with questions of where to go.

Lack of insight into performance

ezCater provided very few metrics to give caterers insight into their performance over time. And caterers didn’t trust the metrics they say: what did those labels mean? How were those numbers calculated?

Disengagement and lack of incentive

While caterers wanted to provide excellent service and build their reputation, they did not feel that ezCater honored their efforts within the platform. Independent restaurants expressed disappointment that ezCater boosted big brands on the marketplace, putting small restaurants at a persistent disadvantage regardless of service quality.

This last point uncovered during my interviews presented an interesting parallel opportunity — small businesses needed a way to compete on the marketplace against national chain brands.

I get really frustrated with that as a small business owner that competes against [national chain], because I probably get four phone calls a week because a big brand has dropped an order the day of. Whenever ezCater contacts us and says, “hey, something fell through, can you help?” I always do something. But ezCater doesn't care.

Restaurant manager in Denver, CO

Defining the Solution

Based on our data and field research, we came to an agreement that our solution needed to:

  • Address pain points within the ezCater product
  • Reward reliability with a competitive advantage in marketplace visibility
  • Introduce greater transparency into our reliability calculation

We began outlining a system design that included changes to marketplace rankings, improvements to order management and customer checkout, and a robust reporting feature for caterers that would enable them to track their performance on ezCater, including their on-time delivery rates, order accuracy rates.

We dubbed the project the Top Caterer program. My product management partner and I collaborated in defining the measurable facets of reliability. While he worked with the business analysts to set benchmarks on those metrics for a "Top Caterer" (and tirelessly championed the project internally, making our later changes to Search possible), I connected each reliability facet to a particular action at the restaurant or delivery site.

The flywheel: a reinforcing system

The Flywheel

Improving reliability would create a self-reinforcing system to improve customer experience and drive growth.

Designing the Implementation

Enhancing performance transparency with reports.

Reliability reporting was to be the backbone of the Top Caterer program, driving caterer behavior change through clarity and transparency. Caterers would access this report within the existing order management system, ezManage. There were three major considerations for reporting:

  • Clear communication of standards. The new reporting dashboard showed caterers what was required to meet the program ratings, along with a clear explanation of what each metric meant and how to achieve it.
  • Performance benchmarking. Caterers could clearly see how their performance during the current assessment period compared to the standards, and how their actions affected the score.
  • Rewarding reliability. Caterers would understand the reward for maintaining a high level of reliability — receive badges and recognition on the marketplace along with more prominent placement, regardless of brand size.

The Reliability Reporting feature allows caterers to track their performance in meeting delivery and quality commitments. Caterers can view their performance data in a dashboard that shows their on-time delivery rate, order accuracy rate, and customer satisfaction rate.

Design of reliability reporting feature

Reliability reporting for catering partners

Early designs for reliability reporting explored different ways to visualize and aggregate order fulfillment data, communicate performance relative to benchmarks, and provide bite-sized actionable information.

Fulfillment summary alternate visualization

The fulfillment breakdown Sankey diagram provided an aggregate view of the outcomes of the past 30 days' orders, allowing users to easily see how many went wrong and where in the process it happened.

Top caterer notification

The Top Caterer achievement card sat at the top of the report when caterers had successfully achieved the status. This clearly outlined the value they were gaining from the program.

Incentivizing success with boosted visibility

In January 2022, I moved over to the Marketplace team during a product team reorg. Marketplace hadn't had a designer in over a year — our first order of business was to implement the Marketplace side of the Top Caterer program.

When a caterer achieves the "Top Caterer" status, they receive boosted visibility on the marketplace for 30 days. We split tested several versions including the listing badge, a dedicated carousel, and both.

In the end, we kept a combination of both by using the purple distinguishing badge throughout the site and including the carousel of caterers on unfiltered search results only.

Top Caterers on the marketplace

Featuring top caterers in a carousel at the top of search

We found this approach to be psychologically compelling to caterers and successful on unfiltered searches by driving more traffic to reliable caterers while protecting conversion rate. This approach had another benefit, too, in that it helped address user overwhelm on the search page and provided them with "safe choices".

Top Caterers on the marketplace

Featuring top caterers with an eye-catching badge

The bright purple badge became a reserved component on the site for highlighting our most reliable caterers. Marketplace users reacted positively and we noticed both increased average order value and increased traffic to these caterers when the badge was featured. Users could hover over the badge for more information.

Removing barriers to success

In addition to our new caterer reporting and changes to marketplace visibility, we also set out to implement small changes on the platform that helped caterers avoid pitfalls related to capacity and delivery.

By creating new mechanisms for caterers to “turn off” their availability for a certain day, we helped restaurants sidestep capacity constraints that resulted in quality deficits. (The amazing designer who took over Supply implemented this feature.)

I also made changes to the delivery instructions page of customer checkout to ensure that caterers received information vital to a successful delivery.

Top Caterers on the marketplace

Simple changes make a big difference

Marking office name as required and giving greater visual prominence to delivery instructions during checkout drastically reduced the number of orders submitted without sufficient delivery information, directly impacting caterer ability to deliver orders on time.

Sometimes [the customer] doesn’t give a phone number or instructions. Then I have to call ezCater, and that takes extra time. That can make the order late.

Delivery driver in Atlanta, GA

Pilot Implementation

To track the effectiveness of the Reliability Reporting feature, the marketplace changes were rolled out as an A/B test and the ezCater data team implemented tracking and analytics. The program was renamed "Reliability Rockstar" based on market testing before rollout. The team tracked user engagement with the feature, including the number of caterers who accessed the dashboard, overall impact on reliability and order volume towards our “Reliability Rockstars”.

The A/B test showing distinguishing badges and special sections showed a 4.8% increase in bookings per user as well as a 2.5% increase in overall conversion rate. We also found a statistically significant increase in average order value.

The rewards program was also effective in incentivizing caterers to improve their performance. We found that 12% more orders went to catering partners with a “Reliability Rockstar” badge versus those who did not qualify for the program.

The tracking revealed that the Reliability Reporting feature was well-received by caterers on the ezCater platform. Caterers appreciated the transparency, and the feature saw high levels of engagement, with many caterers accessing the dashboard multiple times a week. As of January 2023, reliability had improved to 92% and was steadily trending upward.


Our reliability incentive system design was a marked success, enabling brands to achieve greater marketplace prominence regardless of their size or reach. This meritocratic system shifted the game towards restaurants who excelled in providing consistently excellent service.

The ezCater team was able to design and implement a new feature that addressed caterers' pain points and improved their reliability. The Reliability Reporting feature has been well-received by caterers and has helped increase user engagement. The tracking and analytics helped ensure that the new feature was effective in improving caterers' reliability and provided valuable insights for further improvements.

Feeling hungry? Check out ezCater.

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