Let's be honest, we all did it. Despite the Covid-19 restrictions affording us more time in the home instead of commuting, and also despite the well stocked cupboards and pantries that would make Mother Hubbard feel like she'd won the lotto, we picked up our smartphones and placed a multitude of online orders for our favorite restaurants. Not just on the odd occasion either––that mobile app for placing takeaway delivery orders got more use during the pandemic than most of the others, and certainly more than it ever had before.
To be fair, on the other side of the online order system which is bringing your food to your door, these mobile apps and their custom have been keeping the restaurant industry open during the coronavirus. While the restrictions varied from state to state, most of the United States has had social restrictions in place in order to limit in-person contact. This would have been potentially disastrous for the likes of small restaurants, whose businesses thrive on the interactions of customers. For many, a takeout service was only available for collection, as their business thrived on the customers that they get through the doors. If you own, or are a part of, the restaurant workforce, then you'd know only too well the concern that the business may not make it to the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To limit the damages, a number of restaurants decided that if they could not invite the customers in, then they would take the food to the customers. Looking to how chain restaurants operate their delivery services, but still remained within the parameters of the Covid-19 restrictions, small restaurant owners took the initiative and went on the hunt for an online ordering platform that would be easy to maintain and wasn't going to bankrupt them with monthly fees.
Online ordering is something that not many restaurants would have had a need to try in the past. Though any small restaurant owner would have welcomed new customers with open arms, each eatery tends to have its own, loyal and local, customer base. The customer loyalty is often rewarded with discounts and hidden menu items, and the only customer data that a restaurant owner would need to pickup would be a name. That interactivity is unique to the hospitality sector, which is why online orders would seem to be such an antithesis to the business––it removes the opportunity for conversation and interpersonal interactions that restauranteurs thrive on.
However, these were unprecedented times. In a bid to curb the spread of the virus but still make enough on the bottom line to keep the kitchens running, restaurant owners used new online ordering systems to advertise and sell their menus without requiring a pickup. With an online order system integrating the point of sale (POS) old and new customers would be able to place an order, pay for it, and have their food delivered in good time. All of this was accomplished without having any physical contact with the restaurant owners or staff, and while staying within the Covid-19 guidelines and restrictions.
Surely there would be a need for contact to take place during a food delivery? Well, not quite. The online ordering platforms have been adapted to include specific instructions for how the customer can be contacted and delivered, too. Whether that is to leave food on the doorstep or curbside is entirely up to the customer as well. There have to be some considerations to remember, of course—namely that not everyone has access via a front door or that third-party platforms don't always give the option for notes to the delivery personal.
For those restaurants that did not have staff members who were able to deliver, they could go into partnership with a delivery business for a percentage of profits, or commission. Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash, and ChowNow are all examples of such online delivery platforms and have the extra benefit of giving the user a real time location of their orders.
For some independent restaurants, using the internet was a new venture. With phone orders being the norm until very recently, some restauranteurs would never have imagined having a card machine at the point of sale, let alone their own website. Ordering systems, which used to take place by a simple method of writing down menu options on a piece of paper and then giving it to the kitchen, were now moving online to computers and mobile ordering platforms. It truly was a baptism by fire––but also an opportunity to re-examine other key features of the business. With some foodstuffs not able to be transported, restaurant partners and owners were already involved in menu management found that the opportunity to re-introduce or remove some items was too much to pass up. Similarly, the mobile ordering systems allowed restaurants of all sizes to reach new customers that they had never been able to previously, thus becoming effective marketing campaigns by accident.
Some could even go so far as to run promotions and customer loyalty programs through their mobile apps, Facebook page or restaurant website.
As the world starts to emerge through the declining numbers of pandemic cases worldwide, and vaccines are starting to appear on all four corners of the continent, restaurant owners are now starting to make plans to re-open and invite people back into the venues. However, it is now worth looking at all of the insights that their restaurant ordering system has been collecting over the time of the pandemic and––particularly for independent restaurants––seeing if there is still a necessity for the mobile apps and online ordering software.
The answer as to whether to keep the online ordering system in a bid to remain completely contactless is also still open at this time. Yet as the world gets closer to normal, it is worth starting the conversation of whether a third-party app to take food orders and also replace the restaurant ordering system is necessary. There are arguments against keeping it––is it necessary to have an online platform take over the phone orders when speaking to the customer is just as effective? Should the restaurant be promoting interaction on an interpersonal basis––particularly after covid––when an online POS is acting as another barrier in the ordering experience? Also, from a business point of view, where is the room to upserve a potential customer with add-ons? All this, while paying a monthly fee to use.
On balance, the reasons to continue using the system might just tip the reasons in favor of keeping it. It's easier to use technology when researching inventory management and seeing what the most food orders were for future reference. The option for customer support is easily accessible as is the interface for the customer themselves. Plus, a customer who is using an online restaurant POS system can truly be contactless, as most orders are paid for by card and not cash.
There are other practicalities too––a restaurant can only provide service for as many people can fit in the building or can get through on the phone. With mobile technology, more orders can be placed and fulfilled. There are customers who are unable to use either the phone or visit in-person, and the online ordering app makes eating at your restaurant more accessible for them, too.
No-one said that the online ordering system has to completely replace your restaurant POS altogether. Instead, as is the case with any new technology, integration is key. The restaurant's online ordering system can be added to what is already there, and work in tandem with what you already have. Online sales are still sales. Besides, for a little while longer, with Covid-19 still causing trouble, it is the best way to conduct business safely.