How restaurants and foodservice operations can leverage digital channels to update menus, offer contactless payment and service, and increase sales

As restaurants and foodservice operations shifted suddenly to takeout-only operations this spring, many tried online ordering for the first time. From diners to white tablecloth to hospital cafeterias, operations were compelled towards the fast-casual style of web- and app-based takeout and delivery. Online ordering may have been something restaurants added quickly in the midst of dine-in shutdowns, but it’s far from a temporary measure.

Now more than ever, with consumer trends showing continued demand for online ordering, a restaurant’s branded digital presence is a direct extension of their dine-in experience, so it’s crucial that they are connected!

From digital menus to contactless ordering for dine-in guests, here’s how you can use your operation’s digital presence to stay connected with your guests while minimizing contact. We’ll also be sharing examples of how restaurants are putting these tips into practice today

Be Where Diners Are Searching Online

With constant change becoming the new standard, consumers demand transparency from restaurants and foodservice operations in exchange for loyalty – whether it’s for dining in or taking it to go. Social media is a key way to communicate and build this trust, so restaurants are taking to Instagram and Facebook to relay swiftly changing protocols and business updates. COVID-19 has driven a spike in restaurant web traffic and social media is the first place diners will look to find whether a restaurant is open and how they plan to operate.

  1. Now that more people than ever are searching for businesses “open now” and “near me,” the time is perfect to capitalize on this increased online engagement. Restaurants using ChowNow can convert these diner views to orders by adding an online ordering button to their social media profiles or even live Instagram stories.
  2. Post regularly about your hours, menu updates, safety and sanitation practices and how you’re addressing new protocols. Not currently active on social media? Need some quick tips to make your social posts more effective? Check out this social media quick start guide to learn how to manage your presence across the key social media platforms, best practices for creating effective content, tips for responding to online reviews and the simple ways to create paid social ads.
Cindi's New York Deli, Dallas, TX
Cindi's New York Deli, Dallas, TX

Make Your Menu Digital

The CDC and National Restaurant Association recommend doing away with physical menus to limit contact. In their place, digital menus are not only safe, but an environmentally friendly replacement.

Plus, without having to commit anything to paper, a digital menu can change as often as needed

Being able to easily update a digital menu in real time saves on the turnaround time and cost to constantly produce new batches of printed menus.

Sold out menu item graphic

Online menus allow you to remove or mark unavailable menu items as they sell out. This means servers don’t have to the dreaded “we’re out of…” update to their guests and can even drive demand for popular items that tend to sell out quickly. With the transparency demanded by consumers in today’s environment, you can keep your diners well-informed and better connected by being able to update your online menu in real time, anytime, with changes reflected across all platforms instantaneously.

Restaurants are repurposing their online takeout menus to fit dine-in needs by directing guests to their websites or branded mobile apps. Setting up a scannable QR code is also a great way to get a digital menu onto patrons’ phone screens quickly. Businesses using ChowNow can also create a shortcut to viewing their online menu with a text-to-order code, where diners text a keyword to an automated system that instantly links them to a menu.

Offer Contactless Ordering for Dine-In

Once diners have an online menu pulled up, why shouldn’t they immediately be able to order and pay? Repurposing your online ordering platform for dine-in ordering and payment is the ultimate efficiency hack.

The pros of contactless ordering include:

  1. Inviting diners to place their orders online or via app limits contact between diners and servers
  2. Tables typically turn faster because there is no waiting for the check
  3. Moving ordering and payment interactions online streamlines operations and helps with reduced staff counts
  4. Limit bottlenecks and lines at limited service operations – guests don’t have to hold a place in line if they can order on a smartphone or computer ahead of time and have it delivered straight to their table
Bellacino's Pizza & Grinders, Stow, OH
Miramar Beach Restaurant, Half Moon Bay, CA

If you are encouraging diners to reserve a table per social distancing guidelines, a good way to prep them for their experience is featuring online ordering on your reservation platform. ChowNow automatically integrates with Opentable and Tripadvisor pages, and Resy also has the option to add an ordering link to your restaurant’s profile (Resy is waiving 100% of its fees and billing through December 31, 2020).

Don’t Forget About Curbside Pickup

Once a time-saving feature for big grocery or retail chains, it’s now standard form for any brick and mortar store, especially as many diners are still wary of dining in.

Adding this option to an online ordering platform speeds up the process and frees up phone lines. “Curbside Pickup” signage can help make it clear where customers should park when they arrive, but it’s also important for your staff to be able to identify which order belongs to that customer without having to make contact with the driver.

Including instructions in your online ordering platform that curbside pickup orders need to include the make, model and color of the car, and to call when they arrive, can help keep operations running smoothly.

Moscow on the Hill, St. Paul, MN
Moscow on the Hill, St. Paul, MN

Use Your Online Ordering Data To Help Increase Sales

Whether you’re offering delivery, curbside pickup, contactless dine-in, or all of the above, you may be missing out on valuable insights if you aren’t keeping an eye on the analytics for your restaurant’s online menu. In addition to enabling you to offer a low-touch ordering process, digital menus can track both customer engagement and behavior.

If you are using an online ordering system like ChowNow, you can easily access real-time analytics to dig into specific category sales, what items customers frequently choose as add-ons or upsells, peak times for customer purchases and more consumer trends. However, not all third-party online ordering systems offer the ability to analyze menu data points – so be sure you do your homework on whether this feature is available before you partner with an online food ordering platform.

Using your online ordering and digital menu data can help you find ways to improve your restaurant’s sales, which can increase revenue by making simple menu adjustments. You may also find that consumer behaviors and preferences have changed since the last time you updated your menu. By analyzing menu patterns, your restaurant’s online food ordering system will become as vital to your operation as the food.

As restaurants and foodservice operations recover and reopen across the country, they face having to navigate new state regulations, diner demands, trends and their own limitations in this new era. By leveraging technology and adopting new ways of doing things, your restaurant can not only stay in business but also come back stronger than ever.

About ChowNow: ChowNow powers an online food ordering system as part of CHECK® Business Tools. ChowNow allows customers to place orders directly from a restaurant's website, Facebook page, Instagram profile and custom-built mobile apps – commission-free. Learn more about ChowNow by visiting online ordering in CHECK Business Tools.

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