How to Create Online Ordering for a Restaurant
An online ordering system provides a tremendous growth opportunity for restaurants. Here's how you can add this important functionality to your restaurant.
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The past few years have created a difficult environment to navigate, to say the least, and it has driven restaurant owners to rethink how to run their businesses.
While the pandemic taught us a lot, one thing is certainly clear — there is immense value in having a strong digital presence. COVID dramatically accelerated the demand for online ordering, and although we are living in a post-restriction world where restaurants can operate freely again, online ordering hasn’t shown any signs of stopping or even slowing down.
Having a presence on an online ordering platform, or offering an online ordering process directly on your website, provides a tremendous growth opportunity for restaurants. 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 restaurant online ordering system that will set you up for success.
1. Evaluate your options
There are a variety of online ordering options to consider when choosing the best fit for your business. These options can be broken down into three categories: first-party online ordering, third-party online ordering, and third-party delivery. Let’s dive into each of these.
First-party online ordering:
First-party services, like Toast, provide fully integrated online ordering systems that allow you to customize your online menu and branding, collect and maximize guest data through email marketing and loyalty programs, and pay flat monthly fees with no commissions. On average, restaurants using first-party services save 15-30% compared to restaurants utilizing third-party services through service fees alone.
First-party systems offer great options for both takeout and food delivery services. For takeout, restaurants using first-party systems, like Toast, can offer curbside pickup and scheduled takeout ordering options. 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 options give you the most flexibility to determine what logistics role you would like your restaurant to play and, often, allow you to keep more of the profits with a commission-free model.
Third-party online ordering:
Online ordering systems, such as Chownow or Chowly, provide a customizable platform that integrates 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 becomes 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 services, like UberEats, Grubhub, or DoorDash, list your restaurant on their marketplace next to other restaurants in the area. Most users of these services access them via a mobile app, though there is also a web browser option. There is limited customizability and access to customer data, but 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.
One thing to keep in mind is that your customers will not be able to use gift cards for your restaurant through third-party apps like Doordash or Grubhub. These services only allow for the use of their specific branded gift cards and do not accept restaurant-specific gift cards as a form of payment.
2. Do some local research
Next, it’s helpful to understand which online ordering 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. For example, if you know your community uses Doordash, there is value in being listed where your potential guests can find you.
However, by using these third-party platforms, you could be subject to high rates and commissions. It can be helpful to candidly ask fellow restaurant owners if they are finding these services to be worth the cost. 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 order options. These can vary dramatically option by option, so keep these top of mind when evaluating your choices.
It is also helpful to understand what the ordering experience will be like for your guests. For example, are they being urged to shop at local restaurants similar to yours? Is the user experience clunky or is it straightforward? If there is any issue with the order, who provides customer experience — the third-party online ordering platform or your restaurant? These factors can impact whether someone chooses to patronize your restaurant and whether they will come back again.
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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.
For example, with an integrated online ordering tool, guests will be able to visit your restaurant website or mobile ordering app, complete their order and checkout, and the order information will be sent directly to your point of sale platform and kitchen display system to be fulfilled. Without a direct integration, your staff will be required to manually input orders that pop up on the online ordering provider’s tablet or interface, inviting opportunities for errors and order delays.
And, when you use a direct integration, all of the guest data acquired through online ordering is stored in your POS software and is available for use through marketing tools, such as email marketing and loyalty programming, as well as internal trend reporting.
Certain POS systems, like Toast, offer a wide range of integration options. Toast allows you to use a first-party online ordering platform, as well as a variety of third-party delivery services like DoorDash. In fact, Toast is the only POS with direct integrations with Doordash, Grubhub, Ubereats, Caviar, and Postmates. 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 by Olo. There are sometimes limitations to this, including 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.
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, be sure to 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 and delivering great food alongside a great customer experience.
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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. Take the time to solidify best practices with your team in the early days to 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 media 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. If your restaurant receives a lot of call-in orders, you can also add a recording urging guests to take advantage of your online ordering system for a streamlined experience.
Get your restaurant online
Regardless of the route you choose to take for your restaurant, implementing an online ordering system is an amazing way to capitalize on 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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