Tips to Transition to Online Ordering in Response to COVID-19

The past few weeks have been turbulent for the restaurant industry, to say the least. With COVID-19 prompting a mass shutdown of public life nationwide, independent restaurants across the U.S. have seen a rapid decrease in sales. Many have had to close their dining rooms all together.

With many restaurants’ in-house dining shut down completely, you may be considering online ordering with takeout and delivery to help keep your business operational and connected to your customers. Diners are continuing to support their local businesses, and online ordering makes it easy and accessible for them to still enjoy their favorite local restaurants. It also allows you to stay connected with those diners during and after the crisis.

Before jumping in, restaurants need to consider some factors that could affect their success and whether transitioning to takeout and delivery is best for their business, including:

  • Consider your location:  Are you in a residential area where people live and will be able to get takeaway, or are you in a business district that is inactive due to government restrictions?
  • Evaluate your menu: Will your food travel well? If not, how can the menu be limited or adjusted to ensure that the food you’re offering is still quality when eaten at home?

Once you’ve decided you’re ready to move to online ordering, take a look at our a few of our top recommendations below on getting started and making the most of your takeout and delivery program.

1. Use all the online ordering tools available to you

It’s critical to keep revenue coming in right now, so you want to ensure you’re using all the tools at your disposal for attracting new customers with online ordering. When you’re evaluating which online ordering platform is right for your business, don’t forget to consider features and add-ons that platform might offer to make it easier for customers to find and order from your restaurant. For example, ChowNow  offers these options to attract new customers and make online food ordering easier:

  • Food Ordering with Google: this lets customers discover and order from your restaurant, straight from Google Maps, Search, and Assistant. It’ll help you get in front of all the Google users searching both specifically for your restaurant and for related terms like “pizza open now” or “ribs to-go Portland”
  • Yelp Ordering: even if you’re not the biggest fan of Yelp, it may be worth putting those sentiments aside for now and letting them send you orders. You can always turn it off when we’re on the other side of this crisis
  • Delivery: ChowNow’s delivery add-on lets you use on-demand delivery without paying commission. The rate is based on distance, and you can automatically share all or some of the fee with your customers
  • ChowNow Discover: use ChowNow’s restaurant-friendly marketplace to connect with more diners near you – completely free of charge
Online ordering

2. Add to your pick-up and delivery offerings

Whether you’ve decided to start online ordering or only taking orders over the phone, now is the time to adjust your menu to drive more sales and give your customers options to support them during this time. Adding to your offerings could mean adding new items to your menu, or it could include features off your menu to benefit your customers and your operation.

Some new features you could consider adding include:

  • Adding a curbside pickup option to your online ordering or specify that it’s an option for phone orders. At ChowNow, we’ve built a curbside pickup feature that can be easily turned on within a restaurant’s menu
  • Promoting the purchase of gift cards to your menu. Some restaurants are even offering discounts on their gift cards to further stimulate cash flow
  • Featuring on your menu any branded merchandise, such as t-shirts, mugs, or hats, your restaurant may offer. It’s a simple way to ask your customer base to show that they care
  • Cross-training your staff by turning them into your new delivery team. If you’re just starting to offer delivery, make sure you establish and communicate your delivery fees, hours, and delivery zone

If you’re looking to alter your menu offerings during these changing times, here are a few ideas you could consider:

  • Offer large format takeout or a family-style to move more inventory. Position it as an option for feeding the whole family or freezing for later
  • Create do-it-yourself kits that will last for longer and provide a fun activity for families to do together. Some restaurants are offering DIY pizza packages, pasta and sauce pairings, or even cookie decorating kits. Market these bundles to parents, since they’re great for keeping kids entertained while they’re home from school
  • Put grocery and pantry goods on the menu, too. Take inspiration from other restaurants, who are selling everything from house-made spice blends to uncooked rice. Be sure to consult your legal advisors first to consider local laws and regulations from the FDA and USDA around this first
  • Don’t forget the drinks! Delivery and pick-up restrictions regarding alcohol vary based on local laws and licenses, but if you can add beer and wine to your menu, now’s a good time. Again, make sure to consult your legal advisors before jumping into this option.

3. Promote your updated offerings

With business rapidly changing, it’s important to keep your customers up to date with current details. Use social media and email to get the word out about your updated takeout offerings and promote your takeout and delivery within your restaurant with large banners outside (if permitted by your local ordinances) or window clings. Be sure to make it clear to your customers that your restaurant needs and appreciates their support.

After adding new menu offerings like family-style dishes, DIY kits or grocery goods, ensure customers can see these new offerings front and center by creating a new section on your takeout menus, both printed and digital. US Foods® has created free menu templates you can use to create or update your print takeout menus, with specific options like pantry and home essentials, family-style and kids meals.

If you are using an online ordering platform like ChowNow, you can optimize your digital menu by creating a new section for these additional offerings at the top of your online ordering menu. This will not only organize your new offerings but put them front and center for your customers to know these options are now available to order.

4. Weigh your online ordering options carefully.

Given that many restaurants have had to pivot to exclusively pick-up and delivery, there’s an increasing urgency to adopt online ordering, and some online ordering providers have announced special offers to support operators during these challenging times. Even in times of emergency, though, it is important for restaurants to carefully consider all features, benefits and terms of online ordering providers.

Food and Wine provided a breakdown of how commission-based delivery apps are reacting to the crisis. For example, Grubhub (which also owns Seamless) announced that it is deferring commission fees for the independent restaurants on its platform. As Forbes explained, there is fine print that operators need to be aware of: “What Grubhub is actually offering, according to its terms and conditions, is a short-term deferral of marketing commission fees [not delivery or processing fees]. In addition, the terms of the relief program require restaurants signing up to continue partnering with Grubhub for at least one year.”

Eater  also explained: “It’s unclear how long the deferral will last, though a term sheet sent to restaurant owners states that it ‘will end on a date to be determined by GH in its sole discretion, although GH currently anticipates that such date will be no later than March 29, 2020.’ Once that time is up, restaurants will have four weeks to repay the deferred commissions, after a two-week grace period in which they make the regular commission payments.” Thus, it is important to fully educate yourself on the total impact these services will have on your business not only now, but after the industry has recovered as well.

5. Stay connected to your community

This is a time for everyone to band together, do what they can to help, and exercise their collective voices to encourage others to support their local restaurants. Many campaigns have been trending on the internet to encourage diners to order takeout and delivery – including #TheGreatAmericanTakeout, which saw over 10,000 mentions on Twitter.

Consider setting up a Venmo or GoFundMe for your restaurant to help keep paying your employees and ensure their basic needs are covered. US Foods also has resources for restaurant and hospitality workers as well as their employers to support during these difficult times as well as to help when it is time for the industry to recover.

Don’t forget, take care of yourself, too.

About ChowNow: ChowNow powers online ordering as part of CHECK® Business Tools. ChowNow builds online ordering directly into your own website and custom mobile apps, helping you protect your brand and – thanks to commission-free pricing – your earnings. To support restaurants during this time, ChowNow has special offers including:

  • All setup fees – including those for the monthly plan – are being waived for US Foods customers
  • With expedited onboarding, ChowNow can start working on your operation as soon as you submit the required items listed here
  • If your restaurant doesn’t already have one, ChowNow is offering new customers a free optimized website for 6 months (websites can be completed within an hour of signup)
  • Get free, commission-free access to new customers through ChowNow’s ordering marketplace, as well as their ordering integrations on Yelp and – a special benefit – Google

US Foods customers can get started by setting up a demo with ChowNow here.