The days when a restaurant could survive without offering delivery or takeout options are very much gone — a fact that is surprising to no one and yet continues to weigh heavily on many restaurateurs’ minds.
While the industry is still reeling from the pandemic and now labor shortages, the demand for delivery hasn’t waned. In fact, 53% of adults say that purchasing takeout or delivery is essential to the way they live.
To deal with this, many restaurants tend to go for the “easy” option: letting their customers use 3rd-party delivery apps to order online. This seems like a convenient option — and for some restaurants, that may be true.
But relying on 3rd parties comes with a variety of issues. And even when you do have your own online ordering system, customers may still go through the apps instead of placing direct orders on your restaurant website.
So, what’s a restaurateur to do?
Why You Shouldn’t Rely on 3rd-Party Delivery Apps
3rd-party delivery apps do have a discoverability advantage. People may well find your restaurant for the first time by searching those apps.
Nevertheless, these apps come with several problems. Here are some of the most significant:
- Bad Customer Experience: Many customers don’t like to use them. 64% of all adults say they prefer to order directly through a restaurant for delivery.
- Customer Fees: You can’t control delivery fees or markups added to orders, resulting in your customers paying more (and perhaps ordering less).
- No Delivery Quality Control: You can’t control driver availability or delivery times, which can lead to late or missed deliveries.
- No Reputation Management: If the 3rd-party app makes a mistake, you are likely to take the blame. This might include incorrect orders, items being on the menu when they shouldn’t be, or even customers placing orders when your restaurant is closed.
- Less Data: You won’t have access to valuable customer data. Even worse, the delivery service can use your customer’s information to market other restaurants to them.
- Extra Costs: Commission fees charged by 3rd-party apps are often high, ranging anywhere from 15-30%.
- Missed Marketing Opportunities: You can’t control their marketing. Any marketing they do will focus on their own app and carry their brand rather than showcasing your restaurant.
Delivery apps also have the unfortunate habit of adding restaurants without their permission. In fact, GrubHub has been sued in the past for adding restaurants to their site without entering into an actual partnership. Not exactly the best look for them — or your restaurant, for that matter, if the information they provide is wildly inaccurate.
All of this proves that you need your own online ordering system so customers can place orders directly on your restaurant website.
Of course, this can be an intimidating idea. How do you do it right? How, more to the point, do you get your customers to stop using those 3rd-party apps and start ordering from you directly?
1. Choose the Right Online Ordering System
You need to set up an online ordering system that is right for you and your business model. The most important thing is to make it easy for your customers to find it.
Your online ordering menu should be prominently linked on your site and look like a part of your brand, providing the same appearance and customer experience. Also, make sure customers can easily find it when searching on Google or Bing. Unfortunately, 3rd-party delivery apps can often manage to get themselves listed above you, but you should make sure you’re at least visible when somebody searches for “[your restaurant] menu.”
What to Look for in an Online Ordering System
One of the biggest selling points of many 3rd-party delivery apps is that they’re easy to use. When looking for an online ordering system for your restaurant, it’s important to prioritize ease of use for both your customers and your staff.
Be sure to thoroughly test your online ordering menu before launching it:
- Have your employees place test orders.
- Make sure it works and looks good on all devices: desktop, tablet, and mobile.
- Make sure your menu is easy to scroll through on the smallest screens. Many of your customers are ordering spontaneously and may not be near a computer.
- Test it thoroughly to ensure they can easily find the items they want, and be willing to receive feedback from your customers to make continual improvements.
You should also make sure your online ordering system offers flexible payment options. These days, not taking common payment methods like Google Pay or Apple Pay can absolutely cost you orders, so whatever system you choose should offer these in addition to traditional payment options.
Finally, make sure that your online ordering system is easy to use and manage from your side of things. It should be able to integrate into your existing POS and the other technologies your restaurant relies on. Bonus points if it allows you to collect and manage customer data, which can be leveraged for marketing down the line.
Ideally, when your customers go to your website, online ordering options should be visible front and center. Test this by having people who aren’t familiar with the site look and see how quickly they can find it. If you are still using a 3rd-party service, place your direct order button above theirs — or even better, replace their buttons entirely.
2. Own Your Promos and Marketing Campaigns
Everything is comes down to marketing these days. As we mentioned earlier, 3rd-party delivery apps aren’t exactly worried about marketing your restaurant as much as they are interested in getting people to use their services. That’s why it’s important to keep control of your own promotions and marketing campaigns. These campaigns should always be aimed at getting customers to order directly from you and keep ordering direct in the future.
The first and arguably most important step is to convert customers away from the 3rd-party apps. You can start doing this by offering discounts or coupons for people who place direct orders on your restaurant website instead. Some ways to do this include:
- Bag Inserts: Add inserts to takeout order bags that tell people about your direct ordering option. Include a QR or promo code that gives them a special discount on their first direct order.
- In-Store Signs: Put up signage around your restaurant that lets everyone know they can order online. You can even include a QR code here too that takes them directly to your online menu.
- Email Marketing: Harvest customer emails as often as you can and use that mailing list to promote direct ordering. For every $1 spent on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $42.
Speaking of communicating with your existing customers…
3. Encourage Repeat Ordering Habits
Once you have convinced your customers to try ordering directly from you once, you need to get them to keep doing it.
To expand on the idea of email marketing that we just mentioned, you can include a newsletter/email sign-up (and maybe an appropriate incentive) at checkout to get as many customers as possible to opt in to your mailing list. Then, you can start sending campaigns that remind customers to come back and order again.
You can also use personalized SMS messaging to encourage repeat orders. Analyze your customer data (which you’ll now own thanks to having customers order direct!) and send messages based on customers’ order history. Believe us, personalized messages look a lot less like spam. Also, when you base your messaging on relevant metrics (e.g. “we haven’t seen you in a few weeks!”), you are more likely to offer them something they actually want.
4. Set Up a Loyalty Program
Given the million and one things that need to be managed at a restaurant day to day, not enough restaurateurs ever think to set up a loyalty program. But the truth is, it’s a great way to retain customers and encourage repeat business, especially when you allow customers to earn points with every direct online order to get money off of future meals.
Loyalty programs work very well to keep people coming back and ordering directly from you. People who order online will tend to patronize your restaurant more often than other groups, meaning they are the perfect target audience. To keep everyone ordering directly, provide points only for direct orders on your restaurant website. You can integrate your loyalty program with your website to automatically award points or cashback each time the customer orders (or you can choose an online ordering system that already has loyalty built into it — like 9Fold!).
Now Is the Time to Set Up a Direct Online Ordering System
Whether you’ve been offering delivery for years or are trying to catch up to the times, 3rd-party delivery apps are not always your best option. They will inevitably cut into your profits and prevent you from totally controlling things that are crucial to your restaurant’s brand and reputation.
You can take control of the situation by setting up your own online ordering system. This way, you can keep more of the profits that come from online ordering and continue to own your own marketing and brand. To find out more about the 9Fold online ordering system and how we can help you funnel customers away from 3rd-party apps, book a demo today!