Today, patrons not only expect a restaurant to have an online presence but also prefer seamless online ordering experiences.

In 2020, Americans ordered takeout from their favorite restaurants more than ever before—with many restaurants offering delivery and takeout for the first time. Online ordering became a survival tactic as indoor dining rooms closed across the country, and restaurants were forced to embrace every channel for off-premise dining in order to stay afloat.

However, the mad dash to delivery last year did not give operators enough time to develop a strategy that gave them the best chance of success. As restaurants dive headfirst into the new year, operators have the chance to make the most of this valuable growing channel to ensure the next few months are as profitable as possible.

Digital Diners Going Direct

As 2020 progressed, mobile and online ordering demand reached historic highs, with pick up alone increasing by 286 percent. Initially, restaurants met this increased demand for off-premise dining by engaging more with third-party apps to reach diners turning to these familiar platforms for their next meal. However, over the past few months, a direct online ordering revolution has taken place, with 64 percent of delivery customers now saying they prefer to order directly from a restaurant versus a third party. In conjunction, online ordering interfaces have become more streamlined as technology companies improve their platforms, and guests grow more comfortable with online ordering as the new normal.

Today, patrons not only expect a restaurant to have an online presence but also prefer seamless online ordering experiences that allow them to order and pay ahead digitally on any device. To stand out, restaurants should shift their thinking to reimagine their online ordering as an extension of their entire dining experience, rather than a direct line to the kitchen. Diners expect great customer service in the digital sphere, looking for the easiest ways to order their favorite foods and even track their order status. In this case, the more you can give your customers, the more likely they are to become loyal repeat customers. 

Leveraging Online Guest Data To Turn Orderers into Regulars

Online ordering has the clear benefit of adding revenue to offset losses from closed or reduced on-premise dining. However, direct ordering platforms have a much larger impact than providing income alone. They not only allow for more control over a restaurant’s digital presence, but also provide the essential guest data that operators need to take complete ownership of digital guest experiences.

Guest data is a crucial aspect of marketing, providing the ability to drive repeat guests with specific recommendations and promotions across platforms—from social channels to customized email promotions to targeted advertisements and more.

By incorporating technology that can consolidate and utilize customer data automatically, restaurants have a huge opportunity to increase customer loyalty and build guest relationships by personalizing their messaging to all guests. All without the need to use extra resources to make customers feel like VIPs.

For example, imagine a return diner places an online order directly from their favorite local restaurant. When a restaurant has access to information like their average spend or frequently ordered items they can automatically tailor a message to that diner, letting them know their favorite special is on the menu or providing a unique promotion for a wine pairing they would enjoy based on their order history.

When dining rooms open back up, this data can be used to not only help operators understand who their online-only customers are but how they can market to them most effectively to drive subsequent on-premise visits. Most importantly, the data collected via online ordering can be leveraged to create high personalized on-premise experiences that drive repeat business.

Online Ordering Looking Forward

Online ordering has become a vital part of both the customer dining experience and restaurants’ bottom line, especially as digital-native diners continue to make up more of the customer base. Throughout 2021 we’ll see enhancements to the online ordering experience and strategic integration of customer data that will help restaurants continue to innovate and promote the direct experience.

As the restaurant industry hopes for recovery this year, diners will continue to support their favorite restaurants in the best way they can. Operators cannot miss the chance to capitalize on that goodwill by funneling them into direct online ordering channels and thank them for their loyalty with incredible ordering experiences that will ensure their guests keep coming back.

Joel Montaniel is the CEO & Co-Founder of SevenRooms, a fully-integrated guest experience platform for the hospitality industry. Prior to founding SevenRooms in 2011, Montaniel served as the Chief of Staff at LivePerson, leading strategic, operational and cultural initiatives. He started his career at Credit Suisse within the Real Estate, Finance & Securitization Group. He graduated with a B.A. (Hons) from Georgetown University.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology