How to Create Online Ordering for a Restaurant

Online ordering picnic

An online ordering system provides a tremendous growth opportunity for restaurants. Here's the process of adding this important functionality to your restaurant.

The past year created a difficult environment to navigate, to say the least, and it has driven restaurant owners to rethink how to run their businesses. 

If one thing became clear, it’s that there is immense value in having a strong digital presence. COVID dramatically accelerated the demand for online ordering, and although lighter restaurant restrictions are on the horizon, online ordering isn’t going anywhere. 

An online ordering system provides a tremendous growth opportunity for restaurants. There’s so much digital demand and it’s time to take advantage of it. These systems allow restaurants to unlock higher ticket volumes (compared to over the phone orders), create an easy way to input and process orders by removing human error, expand delivery capabilities, and collect the guest data needed to turn new customers into regulars. 

It can be difficult to navigate the different options on the market, so we’ve summarized seven steps to identify and launch the online ordering system that will best equip your restaurant to succeed across platforms. 

1. Evaluate your Options

There are a variety of Online Ordering options to evaluate when determining the best fit for your business. These options can be broken down into three categories:

First Party Online Ordering: First party services, like Toast, provide fully integrated online ordering systems that allow you to customize your menu and branding, collect and maximize guest data through email marketing and loyalty programs, and pay a flat monthly fees with no commissions. On average, restaurants using first party services save 15-30% compared to restaurants utilizing third party services.

First party systems offer great options for takeout and delivery services. For takeout, you can select standard pickup, contactless and curbside pickup, or scheduled pickup. For delivery, you can utilize either first party delivery services where you provide your own delivery fleet, or first party delivery services where your POS provider offers an on-demand delivery service for a very low commission through a partnership with a delivery company like Doordash. 

Overall, first party gives you optimal flexibility to determine what logistics role you would like your restaurant to play. 

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Third Party Online Ordering: Online ordering systems like Chownow provide a customizable platform that integrate with select POS systems to facilitate online ordering for a flat monthly fee. They collect guest data similarly to first party systems. However, if the system doesn’t integrate with your POS, order management will be more labor intensive and you may have limited access to your guest data. Takeout options are usually the same as they are for first party, and for delivery, the third party will provide their network of drivers with rates differing by partner. 

Third Party Delivery: Third party delivery services, like UberEats or DoorDash, list your restaurant on their marketplace next to other restaurants in the area. Although there is limited customizability and access to guest data, these services can provide incremental demand through their market presence and huge customer base. However, customers using third party delivery can expect to pay up to 30% for commission fees which can heavily impact profits as orders increase. 

2. Do some Local Research 

Next, it’s helpful to understand which systems your neighboring restaurants use, and how customers in your community like to order. This is most important when evaluating which third-party delivery platform to use. Utilizing a system with a strong local presence will allow you to increase first time customers and community visibility. 

However, you could be subject to high rates and commissions. Find out if your peers are finding it worth it anyway. And if you choose to grow your presence through a third party service, you can funnel demand to your first party online ordering services to reduce commission fees over time. 

3. Get Demos of Different Systems

After researching the different options on the market, set up demos for the systems you believe will be best suited for your restaurant.

It’s important to come to these demos equipped with questions about key differentiating factors. The most impactful areas to understand are commission fees and monthly rates, integration with your POS system, data collection, customization and branding, and delivery options. These can vary dramatically option by option, so keep these top of mind when evaluating your choices. As you shop between options, you can use this information to negotiate better rates with the final provider you select. 

4. Make Sure the System Integrates with your POS

Integration with your POS system is a crucial piece of running a seamless online ordering operation. When an online ordering system integrates with your POS, your orders flow through directly from the guest facing platform to your kitchen. This integration saves substantial time for your staff and drastically improves accuracy by allowing your team to focus on order execution rather than manual order input and management.

And all of the guest data acquired through online ordering is stored in your POS software and is available for use through email marketing, loyalty programming, and internal trend reporting. 

Certain POS systems, like Toast, have a wide range of integration options. Toast allows you to utilize their first party online ordering platform, as well as a variety of third party delivery services like DoorDash. POS systems like these are ideal for online ordering flexibility. 

If your POS does not integrate with your online ordering system of choice, you can consider using an integration middleware provider like Omnivore or Chowly. There are sometimes limitations to this, including typically a lack of up to date menu syncing and delays in receiving orders. However, this can be an effective option if you have a strong preference for a specific online ordering system. 

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5. Get onboarded 

Now that you’ve selected your online ordering system, it’s time to get onboarded. Each system will have its own process for setting up your online ordering platform. Your onboarding session will likely include training on how to configure your desired settings and tips for best practices. 

If you select a system that allows customization, showcase your brand through different images, messaging, and colors. If your system is already integrated with your POS, it should be an easy process to activate online ordering. 

Make sure you follow the step by step guide to launch your system, and reach out to customer service teams if you experience any difficulties.  

6. Build your menu and test it out

It’s time to bring your menu to life! It’s important to reimagine your menu for an off-premise experience. Are there certain items that won’t travel well? Are there modifications you can implement to make items more takeout-friendly? What’s the best way to package these items so they are fresh upon arrival? Are there prices you should adjust to cover any incremental costs of online ordering? 

It may be helpful to look at other restaurants you know well to understand how they translate their menus online. This will be a key step in ensuring you are best serving your online customers. 

7. Start accepting orders 

Now, you can begin accepting orders. With any new system, it will take time to iron out problems with menu items, logistics, and order times. Keeping a pulse on both staff and guest issues will ensure you can modify your system as needed. Many online ordering systems offer features like order throttling to take control of flow at peak times. Solidify best practices with your team in the early days, and you’ll reduce obstacles later on.

To promote your new online ordering system, you can utilize a variety of marketing tactics such as sending out emails with the online ordering link, posting the link to your social pages and website, hanging signs in store, and giving out flyers in to-go bags. Some proactive restaurants also customize their phone menu to highlight their new online ordering system. These can be great methods to increase online ordering traffic. 

Get Your Restaurant Online!

Regardless of the option you choose, implementing an online ordering system is an amazing way to capitalize on the influx of digital demand. Integrated first party online ordering providers like Toast can offer tremendous value for your customers, and third parties can offer a great avenue to acquire new customers. As the restaurant industry continues to shift into this tech-centric age, it’s important that your restaurant is armed with a strong online presence to maximize your long term growth.

To learn more about optimizing off premise dining, check out the Toast video course on online ordering & delivery.

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