How to Set up an Online Ordering System for a Restaurant

The consumer desire for online food ordering has skyrocketed. Even before the coronavirus pandemic made in-restaurant dining an impossibility for many establishments, takeout and delivery options were in high demand. Now, with many restaurants still unable to offer dine-in experiences, and many consumers opting for a safer alternative, it’s more important than ever. If you don’t already have a way for your customers to order online with you, then it’s important to figure out how to set up an online ordering system for your restaurant.

Figuring out how to set up an online ordering system is crucial in making sure your establishment adapts to changing trends and rules. We’ll review the options for getting your restaurant up and running on an online food ordering platform as well as review best practices for satisfying customers.

What Is an Online Ordering System for Restaurants?

An online ordering system for restaurants enables customers to place their food orders via the web, either on mobile or desktop. Payment is generally completed at the same time as the order. Not only are online food ordering systems a convenient alternative for customers, but they’re also an important way for restaurants to keep their business moving amid current events.

A customer will place an order online, which will notify the restaurant to get the order started and then get the food to them in their preferred manner (pick-up or delivery).

How to Set up an Online Ordering System: 3 Options to Consider

There are three main ways to set up an online restaurant ordering system, each with benefits and drawbacks.

1. Direct Website Integration

One of the options for how to set up an online ordering system is to use your existing website. This enables customers to order straight from you, and you’re not sourcing anything to a third party—which means you keep all of the profits.

If you’re a restaurant, you likely already have a website to entice customers and display menu options. (If you don’t, start by building one.) Many web builders have built-in restaurant ordering modules, such as Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly. If your site is WordPress-based, you can also look into plugins, such as the one from WooCommerce. Keep in mind that you might need to upgrade to a higher tier on your website plan in order to enable online food ordering functionality.

If you’re interested in facilitating your online ordering process via your own website, the first step is to check into your web host to see what kind of options for ordering they offer. Then, you can build out your system exactly as you’d like. If your web host doesn’t have a module to facilitate orders, you can look into plugins, or even consider migrating your website to a new platform (though this will take a little bit of effort).

Although reaping all of the profits of your online orders is definitely a perk, don’t forget to consider the drawbacks of using a direct website integration to manage your online orders. One of the downsides of this approach is that you’ll have to manage every aspect of the process, from uploading your menu to collecting orders, getting payment, coordinating deliveries, and more. 

2. Third-Party Apps

Many restaurants rely on third-party apps to efficiently get their food to their customers. Examples of third-party apps for online ordering include GrubHub/Seamless, Uber Eats, Doordash, ChowNow, EatStreet, and Postmates

A major benefit of this approach is that your restaurant will have greater exposure and a larger audience of potential new customers. Many customers search for restaurants by cuisine, dish, who is open, how far restaurants are, their ratings, and more. Your restaurant will appear if the search criteria is met, which means you’ll get in front of customers who might not have dined with you before.

Getting started with these systems is easy. You choose the app that you’d like to list on (you can choose multiple apps if you’d like) and fill out a signup form. This will enable you to add your restaurant to the platform, upload your menu, and more. There will likely be an approval process on the company’s end—but don’t fret, this shouldn’t take too long.

Your customers will then be able to make their orders through the app (via mobile or desktop), and you’ll get a notification of the orders coming through. You’ll enter the order manually to send to your kitchen and then into your POS. Then, one of your own drivers will get the order to the customer. Some of these apps have tracking abilities, so you can let your customers know when you’re on the way.

This approach is very simple and favored by many restaurants. Just don’t forget that there are a few drawbacks, including fees. You’ll likely pay a fee to get started on the platform, and then the platform will take a small percentage of your order total as a processing fee.

3. Third-Party Apps With POS

Along with using your desired third-party systems, you also can look into an app that will help your POS and third-party app talk to each other so you don’t have to manually accept the orders coming in and enter it into your POS. 

This is accomplished by apps such as Cake, Checkmate, Revel, and Toast. They’re called “integration apps,” which act as the middleman between your thirty-party online ordering app and your POS.

With this option, after your customer places their order through the third-party service, the integration app will automatically enter the information into your POS. It’s a much more streamlined process and allows less room for error since you’re not reentering details that come through the third-party app. If you’re super busy, this approach could be a no-brainer.

Of course, another app will mean another fee. These fees are generally monthly—and don’t forget that you’ll also be paying the fees for the third-party system. That said, if you’re able to do more volume as a result of a good POS integration app, then the app could pay for itself. Look into free trials to get started.

Getting Online Orders to Your Customers

Once your customers have ordered, you have two options to get food to them—delivery and pickup. Here’s what to consider.

Delivery

Naturally, you’ll want to make sure that part of your online food ordering system includes delivery. Many customers expect delivery—and, in fact, not offering it may be a dealbreaker for some. You have a few options for delivery drivers: You can use in-house staff, you can look into gig help, or you can opt for a food delivery software to outsource this aspect of the business. Keep in mind, the latter two options will require more capital than using in-house staff.

Pickup

Delivery isn’t the only component of online food ordering, of course. Another important option is pickup, of which there are two options: in-store and curbside.  

  • In-Store: Customers may choose to pick up their order in-store, especially if they’re reticent to pay an online delivery fee and don’t want to increase their order total with a tip. Make sure that online order pickup is easy and clear. Some restaurants choose to set up a table right by the entrance so customers can easily receive their orders.
  • Curbside: Curbside pickup is an increasingly desirable option for many consumers. There are a few ways you can execute this; you can let customers know to call you when they arrive, or you can have them text a certain number. You should either ask for their car make and model to identify them, or you can number your parking spaces and have them relay in which spot they’re located. 

Online Ordering Best Practices

Determining how to set up online ordering for a restaurant isn’t just choosing a platform and pressing go. There are some considerations to keep in mind that will help you secure orders and make sure customers return.

Customer Ease of Use

It’s incredibly important that it’s easy to use your online ordering system to make sure that customers follow through with their orders and don’t abandon their carts. Many of the third-party platforms have made easy ordering a priority. If you’re not sure that you can build an easily navigable system on your own, you may want to factor that into your decision-making process and opt for a third-party solution instead.

Contactless Ordering

Minding best hygiene practices is more important to consumers than ever before. As you set up your online ordering system, it’s important to make sure that you offer the option for “contactless” delivery, which means that you can deliver to your customers without having to meet them face to face. 

You can alert customers that their orders are waiting at their doorsteps by sending them a text message or giving them a call. Some platforms also include the option to send notes to the driver so they know where to leave the food. If you’re building your own platform, be sure that you let customers tell you the most convenient and safe option for delivery.

Delivery Fee

Some restaurants choose to add a delivery fee to their orders. Many customers choose to go with restaurants that deliver for free, although it’s not possible for some restaurants to accommodate this. Carefully choose whether you want to include a delivery fee—you might even want to test whether you see an uptick in business with a lower fee.

Communication Channels

Sometimes, it’s possible that customers will want to make a change to their order after they’ve placed it. For instance, someone may accidentally select pickup when they’d like delivery, or vice versa. Be sure your restaurant’s contact information is easily accessible, whether through your delivery service or on your website, so customers can get in touch should they need to.

Payment Flexibility

Most customers will pay for online food ordering with credit cards. But offering other options such as PayPal, Google Pay, and Apple Pay may be a good idea to enable customers to pay exactly the way they’d like.

Cash is often not a priority, especially in a contactless environment. If you’d like to offer cash on delivery, this may be an option as well, though it’s not as popular with customers ordering online.

Menu Clarity

When customers are dining in-house, it’s easy for them to inquire about any questions they have on the menu, whether that’s ingredients or substitutions. Those who are ordering from an online portal won’t have access to you, so menu clarity is key.

Be sure that your customers know what ingredients are in your dishes, and be sure to flag any allergens such as nuts, soy, dairy, and gluten. You can also consider labeling which dishes are vegetarian and vegan, which will help guide customers with dietary restrictions. Depending on your platform, customers should be able to add notes if they’d like an ingredient left out, for instance. If you are not offering substitutions, be clear about that as well. 

Photos

Some ordering platforms give the option to add photos. This could be a good strategy for your restaurant, especially if your dishes are especially photogenic. If you are choosing to add photos, make sure that they’re clear and well-styled—you don’t want your images to wind up turning people away instead.

The Bottom Line

Figuring out how to set up an online food ordering system isn’t as hard as you might think. You have several options that you can use to choose the best option for you. And that’s great news in this climate, where traditional in-restaurant dining is no longer possible or the most desirable option. Don’t forget to react to customer feedback and optimize your service and menu in the best way possible to keep your customers coming back for more.

Sally Lauckner

Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger and the editorial director at Fundera.

Sally has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines. 

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