With life heading back to normal, restaurants are faced with yet another set of interesting decisions. It’s a given that the priorities continue to be takeout and delivery and welcoming back in-restaurant dining patrons.
The new question on operators’ minds is: how can we continue to grow our revenue and profits in today’s environment and with our current staff? One option has all kinds of potential: e-commerce! It simply requires adapting simple and affordable technology with current staffing and some creativity.
As we look at this opportunity for many of our Imperial Dade customers across the country, we have seen that online selling is a solution that can work for any size restaurant/foodservice operator. E-commerce has exploded as a sales tool and the food industry is part of that trend. Revenue from e-commerce food sales, including restaurants and specialty processors, has doubled in the last 3 years. It became a lifeline for some operators during the pandemic shutdowns and remains a viable source of revenue.
An e-commerce program also checks both boxes as you look to attract new customers and maintain your relationship with that long-time guest. Targeting existing customers that love your specialty items, ranging from secret sauces to signature desserts, is a great way to stay connected to customers that cannot visit your brick-and-mortar establishment but want to enjoy your food at home. This was effective not only during the pandemic, but also to reach loyal customers that live in other areas of the country.
What’s great is that you probably already have most of the tools to make this new program a success including your existing social media channels, your web site, and the addition of a simple on-line store to support this new revenue stream.
So now you are asking yourself what it is that we will be selling on our new e-commerce platform. That’s what makes this a win, you are already producing most of these products for daily use in your restaurant and takeout & delivery programs. The variety of items that can be sold online is amazing! Sauces, salsas, seasonings, and condiments are available to order from restaurants all over the country. Many come with recipes so customers can create a restaurant experience in their own kitchen. For decades, items including deep dish pizza from Chicago, Danish Kringle from Wisconsin, key lime pie from Florida, and cheesecake from New York have been available for online ordering.
I know you are concerned that your staff is already stretched thin. What’s nice is that you can start with an outside e-commerce service partner like a Goldbelly. You then build on that platform with the help of the person that manages your website, social media, and marketing.
Aggregators like Goldbelly and Tastes of Chicago provide a one-stop shop for consumers looking for regional specialties, gift basket combos, and hard to find treats. For the operator, they provide services ranging from marketing to fulfillment to payment processing. There are also niche websites featuring products that cater to people with dietary restrictions and preferences where chefs, bakers, and other producers can market their items to a specific audience. All good options to explore!
Let’s focus next on how to get the program started. If you have a database of current customers and their email addresses, you can launch an email campaign to promote your fare and draw them to your website. Opt-in text messages are another way to promote sales. People eat with their eyes, so make sure no matter what digital marketing tools you use, your photography is stellar. Take the time to stage your products, use video and get creative.
The next step is to create a loyalty program and/or subscription program to promote repeat sales. Gift cards sold online are another great way to boost revenue. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and the checkout process is simple. In addition, social media platforms are an excellent way to showcase your product. Instagram, Facebook, and wherever else your target customers are, is where you want to advertise and post content.
Review various e-commerce platforms for one that meets your needs. There are so many options today including Shopify, Wix, BigCommerce, Squarespace, Volusion, and custom platforms. Depending on your volume, your budget, and in-house skills, you can find a solution that is best for you.
Remember, whether you decide to launch this with your own platform or find a marketing partner to get you started, selecting the right packaging is essential. Our Imperial Dade experts can simplify the process and help you determine what menu items are appropriate for e-commerce sales. This includes selecting packaging for the products as well as packaging for shipping.
Picking the right packaging is key. Let’s say a restaurant has a signature cheesecake they want to offer for online sales. The package needs to protect the product and preserve quality during shipping. The answer may be a heavier corrugated box coupled with shirk wrap rather than the traditional bakery box used for retail sales.
Another example is a meal kit, with each element packaged individually. An example is ribs with barbecue sauce and side of au gratin potatoes. Containers may need to withstand freezing or reheating in the microwave or oven. In this case, labeling each item with instructions is important to ensure a positive customer experience. Operators can include a QR code linking to a short video featuring the chef talking them through the reheating process and thanking them for their purchase.
For shipping perishable items, you’ll most likely need an outer case with an insulated liner, metalized bubble wrap, or a rigid foam box that creates airspace to help the product keep cold. Ice blocks or dry ice may be required. We also recommend printed tape to seal the box, creating a tamper-evident and branded closure for the box. For large volume customers, the shipping cartons can be customized creating an enjoyable experience when the shipment arrives, especially when the item is a gift.
We are happy to help get you started with this exciting new opportunity. We have customers ranging from fine dining to fast casual restaurants, gourmet markets to bakeries, that have enjoyed success selling their products online, directly and through aggregators.
Schedule a packaging review with one of our experts. Discuss which items you wish to offer for e-commerce sales. We’ll recommend both product and shipping packaging and run trials to ensure quality. Next, we can address custom print items to help with brand recognition. Put our experience to work for your new e-commerce business.