To offer online ordering or not? This is a question that has come to the mind of many operators as a result of restrictions on in-house dining. Although the COVID 19 pandemic has presented the restaurant industry innumerous challenges, setbacks and painful losses, there is still an opportunity for growth should you decide to take advantage of it.
Maybe online ordering is already part of your operation or maybe you are considering whether or not to utilize this technology. In either case, I am sure you have heard the good, bad and ugly about online ordering. Increased revenue, orders pouring into the kitchen out of control without taking into account order volume or production times or even the number of in-house guests, generic, often inaccurate, promise times. The fact is, online ordering is a tool, that, if managed properly, can make a significant difference in your bottom line, and the overall experience of your guests.
Prior to the indoor dining ban, phone orders only accounted for about 12 percent of our total sales. Wholly Stromboli was and still is a destination with our primary focus being an exceptional dine-in experience. Since takeout orders were only a small part of our business there really wasn’t much need for online ordering….until COVID! Knowing that no, or limited, dine-in service was in our immediate and foreseeable future, we implemented online ordering.
Despite implementing online ordering, we found ourselves still overwhelmed by the volume of phone calls. Once we re-opened indoor dining, the constant ringing of the phones was annoying to our guests and disrupted their experience. We HAD to convince our take-out guests to order online. After all, just because you build it, doesn’t mean that they will come.
Like many other aspects of your restaurant, you must market this new offering. Plus, we were paying for the service, we needed to use it to our advantage.
With restaurant marketing, it is important to understand the psychology behind the behavior of your guests. If you want to drive your guests to a particular behavior, you must make it convenient for them to do so, and conversely, make the undesired behavior less convenient. Of course, this must be done with the best guest experience in mind too.
Find out what matters most to your guests. For us, no more waiting on hold for guests to place their orders, improved order accuracy, ease of check out, and the ability to re-order their last meal with a few key presses were all key selling points. Additionally, busy restaurants are loud and difficult to hear on both ends of the phone, so not having to contend with the din of clanging plates and spirited conversation was a win-win!
The guest experience is half the battle though. Your teams’ experience with online ordering is just as important and you must market to them as well. If the platform is inconvenient, your team won’t embrace it nor promote it to your guests. You have to have buy in from your team if you are going to grow online sales. If your online order system doesn’t have direct integration with your POS and uses the swivel chair approach, to order entry — that is to swivel from the tablet(s) to the POS to manually enter orders. Have you really freed up your team to focus on the in-house guest? Have you made their job any easier? You lose the advantage of order accuracy and your teams’ experience with the process is much the same as a phone ringing off the hook. Without POS integration, you also run the risk that you will not hear the ding-ding or see the blinking light that indicates there’s an order to be keyed in.
Despite our best initial marketing efforts, our phones still rang uncontrollably. It was just too tempting for our customers to stay in the old habit of picking up the phone and letting our friendly team take their order. We had to find a way to better market the availability of our online order platform. We used box toppers, social media and digital signage. But, the real game changer was when we replaced our analog phone system with a new VOIP system with an auto-attendant. The message was simple, after thanking our guests for calling, we gave them instructions on how to place a takeout order — online of course! Additionally, our short, seven-character online ordering URL makes it easy for our guests to remember our online ordering site once they hang up.
Our customer base is diverse and the response to auto attendants and online ordering was mixed. Some of our guests absolutely refused to even try it and many loved it. We received many angry voicemails because they “just wanted to place their order!” Funny thing though, by the time we called these guests back, they had already placed their order online. Still, though, a friendly follow up with them about the need to change our business model and all was good.
Over time the number of complaints has subsided, and online orders have increased substantially. Since the introduction of our auto attendant and other marketing campaigns, online orders have grown from 27 percent of total takeout sales to 73 percent! Moreover our check average for online orders is 18 percent higher than phone takeout orders. We attribute that increase, in part, to the suggestive selling features available on the online ordering platform. The ability to suggestive sell over the phone can often be limited when our team is busy.
Many factors are affecting our industry in unprecedented ways, and times are changing. We need to constantly evaluate which of the latest technologies are a good fit for our restaurants. For Wholly Stromboli, technology is a clear path to success. A little bit of psychology and knowing how your guests think, together with creating a user-friendly experience for both your team and your guests is imperative to growing your online sales.
MELISSA RICKMAN is co-founder of Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and member of the World Pizza Champions.
Don’t miss Melissa Rickman’s session “Growing Online Ordering” at Pizza Expo in August
When COVID shut down indoor dining, Melissa Rickman knew she needed to grow her online ordering capacity. Ideal for placing delivery and carryout orders, the online option also tends to yield higher check averages. So she went to work and did just that. A year later her online sales are robust, and now she’s going to give you a game plan to do the same in your pizzeria. Get more details.