Online Ordering, Should You Take the Plunge?

Restaurants are always looking to reduce costs, especially on food and labor. Traditionally, employing new technologies to solve age old problems has been an excellent avenue to accomplish this while adding consistency in quality and lowering costs. by Scott Spitzberg

For example, today there are coffee machines that brew the perfect cup of coffee, espresso or cappuccino making every cup consistently delicious and providing an exact cost per cup. But what about eliminating a true bottleneck and source of customer dissatisfaction while increasing check averages and saving labor cost? Could such a thing exist?

Online Ordering is becoming ubiquitous in the age of “being online” and restaurants can ill afford to pass on the opportunity to offer its customers a way to place their order without calling the restaurant. For many years, restaurants have had websites that can disseminate their menu, hours of operation and the history and culture of the restaurant, but there was no way to get your order in without speaking to someone at the restaurant.

Calling the restaurant to place an order can be a scary thing, more so when the restaurant is busy. Having your customers greeted by an overwhelmed cashier or bartender or worse, a part-timer who only answers the phones on weekends would make an owner cringe if they heard some of the conversations. Having the customer wait on hold is the best of it, but being put on hold multiple times to answer another line, pack another order or yell to the kitchen is even worse. Customers are often rushed by the harried telephone order-taker and can feel pressured to get off the phone quickly which leads to mistakes and lost revenue due to items not ordered.

Other issues affecting telephone ordering are: ordering from the commute home; nobody wants to hear you order your dinner from the train. Giving out your credit card number over the phone is not only insecure for the people around the customer who might hear it, but for the restaurant that is most likely writing it down on a piece of paper that will be crumpled up and thrown away later that evening.

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The easy resolution of the problem is online ordering. However, all online ordering isn’t created equal. Many companies offer online ordering services to restaurants, but beware of the online ordering solutions that may be worse than the problem you are trying to solve. 3rd party online ordering companies can have serious pitfalls that should be investigated very carefully before employing their services. First, follow the money. Make sure that the credit card sales are deposited in your account within 2 days of the order. Many online ordering companies hold your money for up to a month before they send you a check, seriously hurting your cash flow. Second, many online ordering companies have aggregate websites where you are one of dozens of restaurants they work with; potentially causing a customer to change their restaurant choice after looking at their website. Third, these companies keep the customer information for themselves and you lost the opportunity to market to them. Lastly, these companies can easily go out of business, leaving your (really their) customer stranded and possibly keeping any money they are holding in escrow.

The best online ordering solutions integrate with your existing POS system, they work through your credit card processing company and the deposits go directly to your bank account along with the brick and mortar swipes. In many cases, the POS will synchronize with the online website so that you do not have the problem of double entry where you put specials and price changes in the POS and then log on (or call) the online ordering company and hope they do the same on their site. Finally, your online customers are yours. You have their information such as order history, credit card number securely on file, they participate in a loyalty program and you may market directly to them. Most importantly, the customers orders will go directly to your kitchen printers, bypassing a busy phone bank and with fewer errors as the orders are placed by the customers themselves and they do not need to be re-entered from an e-mail or a fax.