Takeout & Delivery

Making the Most of Your Restaurant’s Online Ordering Software: Top Tips for Success

By Richard Gawlas

Couple making an online order on a laptop

The pandemic has tested the restaurant industry’s resilience and forced many to adapt in order to survive, including the rapid adoption of restaurant online ordering software. 

Since the pandemic hit in March of 2020, online ordering rose by more than 25%, with 78% of consumers ordering online as frequently or more often than before, meaning restaurants have had to pivot in order to meet the increased demand. Even in 2021, Restaurant Business reports that 92% of fully vaccinated restaurant customers plan to continue using online ordering post-pandemic at least as often as they did during it.

Whether you’ve previously implemented an online ordering system, or are just now preparing for online ordering because of changes to diner habits, we’re going to look at the top ways you can make the most out of your online ordering software. 

In this guide, we’ll share:

  • Why online ordering is so important right now and in the future
  • The difference between third-party apps versus direct online ordering
  • 10 tips to set yourself up for online ordering success
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Online Ordering Software: A Tech Trend That’s Here to Stay

Online ordering has been one of the few reprieves for restaurateurs who were forced to shutter their dining rooms or limit service during the pandemic. And even as dining restrictions are lifted, it remains a key revenue source for many restaurants. 

As areas reopen and customers have the option to dine-in once again, the trend of online ordering is likely to be a permanent fixture. According to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry Report, 53% of adults say purchasing takeout or delivery food is now essential to the way they live. From the customer’s perspective, the ability to place an order on a desktop or through a mobile device, then process payment and receive delicious food without ever making contact with another person is a major convenience they’re unlikely to give up.

Third-Party Apps Versus Direct Online Ordering

There are two primary ways you can incorporate restaurant online ordering software in your operations: with third-party apps or directly through your own website. 

Some of the most popular and best delivery apps – like Uber Eats, DoorDash, Foodora, Postmates, and Ritual – are aggregate platforms that provide hungry diners with a directory of restaurants open for takeout and delivery. Venues are often organized by location or food type to help customers explore and place their orders.

Integrated payments on these platforms mean that you don’t have to validate or process customer payments because everything is done through the app. Your restaurant receives an order, confirms it, enters the order into your POS (unless you have a POS integration), and prepares the food for pick-up, either by the customer or (more often) by a courier that works directly with the app.

It’s convenient in that the platforms manage everything for you except for the food. Cost, however, can sometimes be prohibitive – with apps charging fees and commissions of up to 30% per orderespecially if you’re not doing large volumes of orders.

A direct restaurant online ordering system, on the other hand, is a solution that requires more hands-on management, but helps you avoid those high commission fees. Having your own online ordering software means you can bring in more revenue and potentially return to profitability faster.  

Customers can explore your interactive online menu, then place an order for right now or schedule one for later directly on your website. And, if you have a solution like TouchBistro Online Ordering, these immediate and scheduled orders flow right into your POS in real-time. You get notified that a new order’s been made and can get to work preparing the food.

While you will have to coordinate in-venue pickups and your own restaurant delivery service, you also don’t have to pay any commission on the orders, which is one of the key factors in restaurants deciding to go this route. Restaurant owners like that they get to offer convenience to customers (who in turn will order more), while keeping the profits in their pockets.

10 Tips for Online Ordering Success

Whether you’ve chosen to go direct, or use third-party apps, here are 10 ways you can optimize your online ordering software to increase efficiency and sales. 

server on laptop at work station

1. Adjust Your Offerings

Going from dine-in to takeout often means having to change the way you do things, starting with the food you offer. Changing up your menu temporarily could help you best meet customer demands while taking care of your bottom line.

Start by creating a smaller takeout menu that’s easy to execute. By limiting the number of menu items, your kitchen staff won’t get overwhelmed preparing multiple recipes at once, allowing them to execute each order quickly and efficiently. This will help keep food costs and waste down, as well as limit the amount of staff you need in the kitchen, making it easier for them to keep a safe distance from each other.

Remove items from your menu that don’t travel well and items that aren’t that popular – these eat into your bottom line. COVID-19 has particularly fuelled the sale of comfort food at grocery stores and you may notice a similar trend at your restaurant.

Also, by sticking to simpler dishes, you ensure your menu is optimized for portability and quick delivery – meaning more orders and more deliveries. 

2. Organize Your Workflow

Like many other restaurateurs, you might still be operating with limited resources and a lean workforce. Optimizing how you work will be key to making the most of what you have. 

Integrating online ordering – with either a third-party integration or a direct ordering system – allows you to streamline the process, take more orders, and stay organized. It also minimizes order mistakes and could lead to an 11% to 20% increase in revenue (or even more in the case of Esmeralda’s 2.0).  

With a direct system, versus using a third-party delivery app, you could keep additional profit by avoiding service fees, and minimize the need to furlough your employees by keeping them on as delivery drivers for your own fleet. 

For example, at Sugarfish, a sushi restaurant in New York City and Los Angeles, all employees not involved in food preparation became delivery workers early in the pandemic. It was a move that allowed the company to keep most of its employees on the payroll and keep Sugarfish restaurants up and running during the height of the pandemic.

Once orders are ready, set up a dedicated area for delivery drivers to pick up food, whether outside the restaurant or in another area far from the kitchen staff who are preparing food.

3. Add an “Order Now” Button to Your Website

You work hard to drive traffic to your restaurant’s website so that customers can learn more about you, find out when you’re open, and what’s on the menu. Next, make it seamless by adding an “Order Now” button directly on your website.

Make the button prominent by keeping it in the navigation bar of your website and easy to find on any additional pages your customer visits. 

Customers want the ability to select and pay for their order as quickly and easily as possible, so by adding this button, you prevent customers from navigating away from your website to search for another method to place their order. 

Implementing an “Order Now” button is easy and TouchBistro Online Ordering customers are even provided with snippets of code that can be integrated directly into the navigation bar of your website. 

4. Update All Other Public Platforms

Part of making the experience seamless for your customers is to make online ordering a consistent option across all the platforms you are on. When you add direct online ordering to your website, make sure to update your Instagram, Facebook, and other social profiles with the appropriate link so that your customers have a higher chance of ordering with you. 

The same goes for your Google listing and knowledge panel. Though people may not be walking by your restaurant like they used to, they are definitely searching online and as dining restrictions lift, you want to make sure your restaurant information is up to date when they find you.  

Manage your online presence on Google, including Search and Maps, by updating your Google My Business listing. 

5. Promote on Social Media

If you’re thinking about how to market your restaurant right now, social media is your best bet.

Especially if you’ve just recently added direct online ordering to your website, you need to market your online ordering to your audience on all your channels to increase the opportunity to order from you. 

If your social media presence has been relatively small – or you haven’t made the time to use it effectively – now is a good chance to test different channels and features as part of your new marketing strategy.

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6. Make It Easy to Place an Order

Potential customers are hungry and looking to confirm their order in as little time as possible. This means they want to complete the order in just a few clicks.

With a simplified menu, you’ve taken a lot of the guesswork out already. For the remaining dishes, ensure they have detailed – but easy to understand – descriptions to minimize ambiguity and can be modified within the online order form. 

Test your online ordering experience on mobile phones, tablets, and laptops to make sure the process is consistent across each platform or browser (Google, Safari, Firefox, etc.) and doesn’t have any bugs. 

customer ordering food on their phone

7. Optimize Your Online Ordering Menu

In addition to making your online ordering menu easy to navigate, you also want to optimize for sales. One of the best ways to do this is by using enticing images and menu descriptions.

Great food photos can tempt customers to order, give a hint of atmosphere, and create expectations. In fact, some studies have found that using high-quality food photos on online menus can improve menu conversion rates by 25%, and increase total food orders by more than 35%.

To ensure your menu item images are top quality, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use indirect natural light: Always shoot your food photos in indirect natural light without flash to create beautiful, well-lit photos without harsh shadows or highlights.
  • Pay attention to your tableware: Ensure you’re using high-quality plates or bowls in your photographs, and remove any smudges or stray ingredients that can distract from the main dish.
  • Use only the best ingredients: Only photograph dishes with the best-looking ingredients – think fluffy burger buns, crisp lettuce, and plump tomatoes. To make certain ingredients look even more fresh, you can add a bit of oil or a spritz of water to produce a subtle shimmer.
  • Add a garnish: Dishes with a lot of liquid, such as soups, curries, and stews, can be tricky to photograph. A little embellishment, like a dash of fresh herbs or another type of garnish, can help to add color and texture that will make the dish pop.
  • Keep the background clean and neutral: Plain backgrounds are best for photographing food because they eliminate any distractions. 
  • Mix up your angles: Some dishes look great when you shoot them head on (i.e. a sandwich cut in half to show off what’s inside), while others photograph better when you’re looking down from directly above the table (i.e. a pizza loaded with toppings). Experiment to find the best angles for each of your dishes.
  • Frame your photos: To ensure your photographs can be used for your online menu, set your camera’s view to a horizontal landscape orientation, and frame up food so that it takes up about 70-80% of the picture. These kinds of close-up shots make it easy for diners to see texture and details (especially when scrolling on small mobile screens).

Once you’ve taken some high-quality photos, add images to accompany your best-selling dishes, or to provide a visual for dishes that diners may be unfamiliar with. Though you don’t need to have an image for every single item on your menu, a 2020 study by Deliveroo found that the majority of online orders go to restaurants that have 30-40% of their menu photographed (versus restaurants with less than 30% of their menu photographed).

In addition to high-quality images, make sure to include compelling menu descriptions. Strong menu descriptions should engage guests’ senses, but also be simple and straightforward. As a general rule, keep food descriptions fairly concise (ideally 140-260 characters), and stick to a simple language (aim for a Grade 8 reading level).

8. Prioritize Safety

Even with vaccination rates on the rise, safety should continue to be a priority.

In addition to reassuring your guests that you’re going above and beyond to protect them, you must also ensure that your staff feel safe coming into work. Train staff on the extra precautions needed for food safety and employee hygiene. If your employees are not yet fully vaccinated, keep them distanced as much as possible, use fresh gloves for each order, and implement pre-shift screenings.

To protect your customers, one of the safest experiences you could provide is no-contact delivery. This simply means that a food order is left at the customer’s doorstep, lobby, or another safe place, rather than ringing the bell or knocking on the door and having the food change hands directly. Payment is taken prior over the phone, through your website, or a via third-party app.

Not only should you have these safety measures in place, but you should also communicate them to customers – on your website, through social media, with on-site signage, and more. Make sure every guest that orders food from your restaurant feels confident in the steps you’re taking to protect them and employees.

9. Revisit Your Takeout Packaging

Your food packaging is an extension of your brand. If your containers leak, or don’t keep food warm, your customers may think twice about ordering from you again. Among those ordering takeout and delivery, 84% agree that packaging is an important consideration when placing an order. 

The right restaurant food packaging helps enhance the customer experience by keeping your food warm, intact, and ready-to-eat from your kitchen all the way to your diner’s door. It could also keep customers safe by reducing cross contamination of bacteria through tamper-proof containers. 

Attractive and thoughtful packaging design can also help you increase sales – 72% of American consumers say that packaging design influences their purchasing decisions and nearly a quarter of consumers are willing to pay up to 20% more for products with eco-friendly packaging.

Employee packing a bag of food at a take away window

10. Integrate Your Third-Party Apps into Your POS

Third-party apps are essentially food marketplaces, and the best food delivery app can introduce you to new customers and provide a convenient way to collect and deliver orders. To make sure you don’t lose any of that convenience because of inaccurate orders or an inefficient process, consider an aggregator that brings them all into one central place on your POS. 

This aggregator or integration will keep your counter clutter-free by removing the need for extra devices and save time on having to punch in orders manually from multiple places.

Having a seamless integration allows you to offer the best food delivery service possible by improving order accuracy, helping you make better business decisions by tracking which apps are performing the best, and letting your staff focus on serving customers.

3 posters advertising online ordering
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Optimize Online Ordering for the Long Term

Having online ordering software has gone from optional to a necessity for most restaurants during the pandemic. With takeout and delivery on the rise – and not going away any time soon – it’s a great opportunity to invest in direct ordering for your site and optimize your overall online ordering process to boost efficiency and sales. 

Photo of Richard Gawlas
by Richard Gawlas

Richard is a Marketing Copywriter and Editor at TouchBistro, sharing tips and stories to help restaurateurs shine. He fancies himself a connoisseur of beards, burgers and Bordeaux, but is always curious to try something new and exciting.

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