Should Your Restaurant or Cafe Enable Online Ordering Now?

With restaurants and bars closing across the country right now, one question is at the top of foodservice business decision-makers’ minds: Should we move our business online? Here, let’s look at what’s happening in the food industry so that you can answer this question with certainty.

First of all, we don’t know how long state and national shelter-in-place or lockdown measures will go on, which restrictions will get tighter and which will lighten, nor do we know what exactly will come of this tragedy. What we do know is that the situation has had a dramatic impact on food businesses and some of the effects will likely be long-lasting.

If you weren’t already offering online sales, you may have gotten a call from Uber Eats or DoorDash asking if you would like to add your menu to their database. And, if this wasn’t on your radar before a pandemic struck the globe, you have no idea what to do. Are the commissions they take worth it?

This guide should help you understand what might happen if you move your sales online.

Let’s take a look at the following:

  • Common objections to moving your restaurant services online
  • The immediate and future benefits of online food retail orders right now
  • Operational changes that will need to be made for eCommerce success

If you think this will help you come to a decision, keep reading.

First, What is Happening in the Foodservice Industry?

Every community in the United States has a slightly different perspective of the Coronavirus’ impact on foodservice. So, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.

In the beginning, there were only a few states that had implemented lockdown measures. A couple of weeks later, the US was up to 23 states under government orders to stay at home. This number later dropped to 21. Now, businesses are slowly phasing back into action in six states, at least for now.

And, while restaurants and bars are mostly forced to keep diners out, foodservice has been a slight advantage to other businesses. Most of the state social distancing orders list medicine and food as the top essential services for the population to leverage.

People are being told to stay indoors. But, when they need medicine or food, they are permitted to leave. This means that, if you can keep patrons interested enough to keep the cash flowing, you could potentially remain an operational and essential service.

Even before a global pandemic swept the nation, consumers were glued to their phones. According to eMarketer, the average US adult spent almost three hours per day on smartphones in 2019. Now, with being stuck in their homes all day, they’re on them even more. People are currently reporting up to seven or eight hours of screen time per day.

So, you’re going to need to think about how to apply this information to your business if you want to keep your doors open.

Now, Why Wouldn’t You Want to Move Your Offline Restaurant or Cafe to eCommerce?

While you might make a fast assumption that an online strategy is better for foodservice right now, there are some valid reasons why you might not want to make the transition. Let’s think about objections for a moment.

  1. A new website and/or online ordering system can be costly.
  2. You may not have the capital to hire new delivery staff.
  3. If you move to a delivery service, you will have to pay commissions.
  4. Could this perpetuate the spread of the Coronavirus?

Still, there are benefits, which we’ll look at next. And, what you do now determines what will happen to your business when lockdowns are finally lifted and the economy is on an upswing.

Next, What Are the Benefits of Moving Your Food Retail Ordering to the Web?

If you can build trust with consumers today, you are more likely to hold onto them long-term. So, what’s the best option to build trust and retain the patrons you already have? You should have a better idea once you understand the benefits.

The advantages of online food ordering systems for restaurants: 

  1. You will create the potential to drive more revenue.
  2. You won’t have to give up business from your loyal patrons.
  3. Order accuracy will improve, eliminating most human error (on the part of your business, anyway).
  4. Modern online ordering systems are highly-customizable, giving you the chance to streamline new promotional offers.
  5. It gives you the chance to stand out from your competition at a crucial time.
  6. Valuable customer data that you wouldn’t otherwise get can be collected.
  7. Online menus are simply easier to change than physical menus.
  8. It will simplify your accounting processes.

The advantages of online food ordering systems for customers: 

  1. Consumers may feel safer when they can order online vs coming in to order and waiting on their meal in the lobby.
  2. With the current social distancing recommendations, ordering takeout may seem safer since the food is likely to have touched fewer hands.
  3. Online ordering is in alignment with the convenience consumers are accustomed to, so it might make your patrons feel more “normal.”
  4. If you provide up-to-date information about menu item availability, customers will experience less disappointment when you don’t have what they want.

So, if you have the resources to move forward and try to maintain your operations by moving orders to the internet, it might be a wise decision. Just remember to focus on retention for now — you can worry about growth later.

And, What are a Few Core Elements of a Successful Online Ordering System?

If you decide to make the move to enable patrons to order from their smartphones or laptops, you’ll need at least a bit of foundational understanding to get started. So, here are some basic tips for success when you enable an online ordering system for your restaurant or cafe.

1. Shop Around for the Right System

Right now, there are a lot of predatory practices targeting business owners and the population at large. And, if you’re new to the tech side of the foodservice game, it could be easy to get wrapped up in one. The last thing you want to do right now is to invest time, money, and energy into a bad platform, or worse, a scam.

Instead, do your homework. Find out which options are available to you and read up on what each has to offer. Look at features, pricing, and read user reviews from somewhere other than the company website. Get a few demos or trials if you can. Then, pick the platform that is best suited to your needs.

And, remember, this is your decision, so don’t get roped into a commitment that you don’t need or want. You have a ton of options. 

2. Reassure Patrons that You’re Taking the Proper Precautions When Handling Food

You’ve no doubt been reading about recommendations from the CDC and your state and local government. And, so have your customers. So, make sure that you let people know that you are taking the proper precautions to ensure safe food preparation.

If you have an existing mailing list, go ahead and shoot out an email. And, if you don’t, post this information somewhere visible like the homepage of your website, your Facebook page, or anywhere else that your customers will interact with your brand online.  This is likely to ease peoples’ worries about eating food that’s been prepared outside of their own home.

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3. Even if You Use a Service Like GrubHub, Enable Ordering on Your Own Branded Website

Especially if you’re in a market where some of your competitors are already moving to online ordering, you need to stay a few steps ahead of the game. And, consumers are more likely to order from a restaurant’s website than on a service like GrubHub. So, bring the ordering to your website.

If you’re not in a position to add an ordering and payment system to your website at this time (as long as you have a website), you can make it look like you do. Just add a tab in your website navigation with an “Order,” “Order Online,” or similar CTA. Then, link out the page where patrons are able to make a purchase.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, you should have an idea of whether or not online ordering is right for your restaurant business at this time. And, if it is, hopefully this article shed some light on how to make the process go as smoothly as possible. If you still have questions about making the transition, please reach out. We’d like to help in any way we can.

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