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Ecommerce for Restaurants: A Recipe For Online Ordering Success

31 min read

If you’ve never felt the need for your restaurant to have a website before, we’re betting that 2020 changed your mind. And for a good reason! For the last several months, online ordering for restaurants has become the only way to continue operating.

Even though many restaurants reopened their physical locations, an online ordering platform is still a hot commodity for restaurateurs. In this post, we’ll dive into ways you can take your restaurant business online, how you can make the most of this new online presence, and tips for adapting to the new norms caused by the pandemic.

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What Is an Online Ordering System?

An online ordering system for restaurants allows customers to place their orders online using a website or an app. Customers can choose their food, payment method (credit card, Apple Pay, cash, etc.), and delivery and takeout options virtually.

So, how do online ordering systems work? After a customer places an order online for a restaurant, the staff gets a notification and starts to prepare the order. Then the food is delivered to a customer according to their stated preferences.

As you can see, using an online ordering system is pretty straightforward and is convenient both for restaurant owners and their customers.

So now you know the answer to the burning “What is an online food ordering system?” question. But what about choosing and implementing the right online ordering system for your business? Let’s dive into the different options on the table (no pun intended!).

Ways to Set Up Online Ordering for Your Restaurant

If you’re wondering “How do I set up online ordering for a restaurant?” you’ve come to the right place. There are a whole bunch of ways to implement a restaurant online order system and each has unique benefits and drawbacks.

Use an e-commerce website

This one is pretty self-explanatory: you can set up a site, or use an existing one to let your customers order food online.

If you already have a website, you can use e-commerce plugins or widgets to add an online store to your site. Ecwid E-commerce can be added to any website, be it WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Joomla, or any other site.

All you have to do is install the Ecwid plugin (an app) to your website, log in to your Ecwid account, set up your store, save, and publish the changes. You can also add your new store to other custom-built sites by pasting the store code onto your website page.

The Cookie Dough Cafe added an online store to their website with Ecwid E-commerce

If you don’t have a site, you might be wondering: “How do I create a restaurant website?” No worries! You can create one for free even, if you don’t have any of those fancy technical skills.

When you sign up for Ecwid, you get an Instant Site. It’s a free website with a built-in online store. You’ll be ready to accept online orders in about an hour: just add your menu, fill in business contact information, and enable payment and delivery options.

If you use a point-of-sale system in your restaurant (like Square, Clover, or Vend), you can sync it with your Ecwid store. This way your menu and order data will be automatically imported from your POS to your online store. You don’t need to add your menu or update stock changes manually, and your order data will be synced between your online store and your physical restaurant. Plus, you’ll be able to manage orders from one dashboard!

Nature Factory sells food on Ecwid’s Instant Site

Set up online ordering via third-party services

To set up online ordering for your restaurant via third-party services, you can partner with platforms like GrubHub, Postmates, or UberEats. They act as a “marketplace” of restaurants where customers can pick from lots of different foodstuffs.

Getting started with restaurant order apps usually looks like this: you fill out a signup form with the app you’d like to list on. There will likely be an approval process on the service’s end, and after that, you’ll be able to add your restaurant to the platform and upload your menu.

The rest is pretty straightforward if you’ve ever ordered from one of these platforms yourself. Customers make their orders, the restaurant gets a notification and prepares the food, and the service makes sure the orders are delivered.

Which one should you choose?

Many restaurateurs want to know: “What is the best online food ordering system?”. As usual, there’s no universal right answer, but there are things to consider before making a decision.

Restaurants often rely on third-party services because they provide exposure to a larger audience of potential new customers. People often search for restaurants on platforms like UberEats by cuisine, dish, location, and so on. Your restaurant might appear if the search criteria are met. That means you get your business in front of customers who might not have ordered from you before.

Customers can choose from different cuisines on UberEats

However, to get started on the platform, you need to pay a fee. Then the service will take a percentage of each order as a processing fee. Some platforms charge as much as 30% per order! Imagine how many more orders you’ll need to stay profitable under those conditions.

Though these platforms provide exposure to a larger audience, they do nothing for increasing your brand awareness. This can be problematic as it lowers the chances of repeat orders. You also can’t track customer information or ordering habits for future marketing. No wonder 43% of restaurant professionals believe third-party apps interfere with the direct relationship between a restaurant and its customers.

Using your own website has a number of advantages. So, what are the benefits of online food ordering set up with an e-commerce site?

  • Lower costs: when setting up your own website, you’ll have some upfront costs, but most of these are small in comparison to third-party fees. And if you sign up with Ecwid E-commerce, you can set up a website for free. Plus, it doesn’t charge transaction fees at all!
  • Full control: you can change and update your menu and website as you like. Third-party platforms limit the way you display your menu or offer delivery, not to mention your lack of control over the platform’s look and feel. With a website, you have full control over any promotions and offers.
  • Opportunity to grow: you can add new payment options, improve product pages, and implement additional ways to increase sales on your site like collecting tips or selling gift cards.
  • More repeat customers: you keep your customers’ data to yourself, which means you can market your loyalty program or special offers to customers after they place orders. Plus, having access to customer preference data means you can engage in more targeted and effective marketing.
  • Increased brand awareness: when customers order from your website, they are more likely to remember your business than when they order from a third-party platform.

Statistics show that customers prefer to order directly from restaurants. According to this survey, 70% of UK consumers would rather order direct to ensure that their money goes straight to the restaurant, not a third party.

If you’re looking for a cost-effective solution that provides more opportunities for growth and promotion, you should definitely consider setting up an e-commerce website for online ordering.

Customers can order food directly on Poke Wave’s website

Prepare to Take Your Restaurant Online

Now that you’ve decided how you want to enable online ordering for your customers, let’s take a few seconds to prepare your business for an online presence. Below are some big ticket points you should take into consideration.

Adjust your menu

If your restaurant has only operated as a physical location, you might want to adapt the menu for online ordering.

Expensive dishes that take a lot of time to prepare might not be the best choice when you need to deliver food as fast as possible to hungry customers. However, affordable lunch options at a set price, meal kits, dishes that can be delivered in an hour or less are incredibly popular among online orderers and delivery lovers.

Keep in mind that the focus has shifted from dining out to cooking at home in the last couple of months. Think about how you can adapt your menu to this trend. For example, if you sell baked goods, you can also offer ready-to-bake meal kits. Or, add family-sized dinner options for customers who are tired of cooking every night.

Ioesco Restaurant also sells frozen foods customers can cook at home

Think through your packaging

Whether you’re going to offer in-store pickup or delivery, your food needs to be packed and transported in a certain way. You may need to invest in food containers, paper bags, thermal bags or heated containers, and/or disposable cutlery.

Aside from keeping food fresh and hot, packaging can serve other purposes. For example, consider branded packaging if you’d like to strengthen your brand image. Or, if your target audience is eco-conscious consumers, recyclable or compostable packaging will definitely win them over.

Research the legal side of the question

Before you enable online ordering, take time to learn all about the rules and regulations that oversee selling food online in your region. The laws may seem daunting and time-consuming, but they all serve an important purpose — to keep your customers safe and healthy.

Every country and region has different food laws and licensing requirements. Some industries may be subject to additional rules, for example, alcohol and dairy.

A good rule of thumb is to consult with a lawyer and your local government to ensure you get the right information about requirements specific to your business and region. You’ll probably need to confirm that:

  • your business is licensed
  • your kitchen meets zoning and food safety requirements
  • you’re a certified food handler

If you sell food products, they need to have labels with complete disclosure of ingredients, net quantity, the weight of total ingredients, name, and location of the maker of the packaged goods. Specific allergens should also be highlighted on your packaging.

An example of label on the Taylor Family Farm product

Take care of transportation

To ensure customer satisfaction, you’ll need to make sure the food is delivered on time, at the right temperature, and in good shape. To do that, you can either handle your own deliveries or outsource them to a delivery service.

The main benefit of outsourcing is that you don’t have to hire and train couriers or take care of delivery vehicles. If you’re just starting out, this might be an option to consider.

If you prefer to handle your own deliveries, keep the following in mind:

  • The cheapest option is to have your drivers use their own cars. Just make sure the vehicle is maintained correctly for food transportation.
  • If you have company cars, consider having them branded to improve brand awareness out on the streets of your community.
  • If you’re looking for an eco-friendly delivery option, bikes are the way to go. Of course, this only works if local delivery zones and climatic conditions allow using a bike.

No matter which option you choose, it’s better to start with a setting up smaller delivery area and fewer delivery operating hours. It’ll help to find the optimal delivery radius and hours. Over time, you’ll be able to commit to longer delivery hours and a larger delivery area.

In Ecwid, you can set up delivery zones with a simple map drawing tool

With Ecwid E-commerce, customers can choose their preferred delivery time at checkout. This makes the process of managing and delivering orders much easier for you.

Think through your pickup options

Apart from ordering delivery, customers have gotten used to ordering online and picking the order up themselves at your restaurant. That sounds like a simple alternative, compared to organizing delivery. However, as always, there are some complicating factors to keep in mind:

To address recent health concerns and social distancing rules, in-store pickup can be modified into a curbside pickup. Here’s how it works:

  1. Customers place orders online.
  2. You prepare and package the orders.
  3. Customers drive to your restaurant and call you.
  4. You put the orders into customers’ car trunks or set outside for pickup.

If you choose this pickup option, you can do the following to ensure smooth sailing:

  • Add clear curbside pickup instructions for customers to your site — when it’s available and how it works.
  • Explain the rules for curbside pickup to your employees and provide training if necessary.
  • Set a pickup spot outside your restaurant. Make it obvious where people should park to wait for their food.

If you choose regular in-store pickup, make sure it’s organized in compliance with your local social distancing rules. Don’t forget to add instructions for customers to your website: when the in-store pickup is available, tell them how many people are allowed inside the restaurant at a time, and remind them to wear a mask.

Ruggie’s makes curbside pickup rules clear on their website

Take the time to train your staff

You’re probably excited to get more orders after you enable online ordering for your restaurant. Just keep in mind that it might change your workflow a bit. For example, you might get more late-night orders. Or, you might get more online orders on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — those are the days when 74% of online orders are placed.

For the majority of hungry food-buying customers, speed is a key factor. People often don’t want to wait more than an hour for their food to arrive. That means that you might need to devote some time to additional staff training.

Make sure to explain the following:

  • The process of managing restaurant online orders
  • The preparing and packaging of food for pickup and delivery
  • The pickup and delivery process.

How to Set Up Online Ordering System for Restaurants

Given all the information we’ve already walked through, you might be thinking: “How do I create an online ordering system?” The good news is that with Ecwid E-commerce, you can do that in less time than it takes to serve a couple of people in-house.

To support restaurants affected by COVID-19, we’re giving away online ordering for free. After your sign up with Ecwid E-commerce, you’ll get access to an online store and be able to take orders online, accept contactless payments, and offer a curbside pickup and delivery to your customers.

You’ll also be able to use premium tools available free exclusively to restaurant owners, such as point-of-sale integration and gift cards. You will be able to use our online ordering offer for free until March 31, 2021.

Learn more about setting up online ordering for free for your restaurant.

If you’re ready to set up online ordering with Ecwid E-commerce, use these detailed instructions from our Help Center. They’ll guide you through each step of the setup process, so you won’t get lost even, if you’ve never used an e-commerce platform before.

Ways to earn more with e-commerce for restaurants

Sure, you may have turned to online ordering out of necessity as opposed to genuine interest in taking your business digital. But an e-commerce website can actually do more than help you accept orders online. Let’s explore some other ways you can use an online store to grow your restaurant’s capabilities.

Sell gift cards. A great way for customers to support their favorite restaurant (or come up with a last-minute gift). For you, gift cards are another way to generate sales. Add gift cards capabilities to your online store, and when a customer buys one, they’ll get an email with a unique code to redeem it.

Accept tips and donations. It helps ease the burden of recurring bills and expenses, especially when customer traffic is lower than usual. With Ecwid E-commerce, you can accept tips or donations as a percentage or as a fixed amount:

Sell merch. If you have a brand logo, you can turn almost anything into merch: stickers, mugs, posters, tote bags, you name it. Merchandise helps increase brand awareness and engage with your customers, especially when it reflects your niche. Plus, loyal customers love it!

Sell online cooking classes or tickets to in-person events. Looking for new sources of income? Besides sharing food with customers, start sharing your expertise: offer online cooking classes, or organize events to be held in your restaurant (when it can be done safely, of course!). For example, wine tasting events, master classes, or dinner parties.

Royal Bakery sells PDF tutorials on their website

How to Promote Your Restaurant Online

After you’ve set up an e-commerce website for your restaurant and figured out your perfect online ordering process, it’s time to think about online promotion as well. Let’s explore some of the primary ways to do that.

Get listed on local business directories

An online business directory is a list of businesses within a particular location or category. Lots of people use these directories to find new companies or try out new restaurants, so it makes sense to get your restaurant listed there.

There are many location- and industry-specific business directories, but make sure you list your restaurant at the most popular ones like Google My Business, Yelp, Apple Maps, TripAdvisor, Yellow Pages. Then you can work your way into more niche websites.

Here’s what you need to include in your listing:

  • A restaurant description, including your cuisine, type of a restaurant, address, contact information
  • A link to your website
  • (High quality) pictures

Double-check that business listings link back directly to your online ordering page. For example, Google My Business may add links from third-party ordering services, such as ChowNow or Postmates. If you use (or have used) such platforms, these links may automatically be added to your listing.

As third-party platforms collect fees for their services, it’s better to link directly to your website from your listing. Learn how you can do that on Google My Business.

The buttons in a Google My Business listing can link to a restaurant’s website or a third-party platform

Liven up your social media pages

Sharing content on social media doesn’t necessarily increase sales directly, but it definitely boosts brand awareness and can help you connect with your customers.

Let your customers know about your new menu items, happy hours, special offers, or changes in operating hours or pickup and delivery. Address their concerns by explaining how you ensure safety of your employees and customers.

Apart from sharing news, add some fun and educational content to your pages. For example: recipes, tips for cooking at home, pictures, and quotes of your staff are all easy and popular ways to get potential customers to feel at home in your social space.

Reposting customer’s photos of your restaurant is important too. To avoid missing out on that precious user-generated content, ask your customers to tag your restaurant in their photos, or use a branded hashtag.

Send out email newsletters

Email is the cheapest way to promote your restaurant online, so start collecting customer emails the moment you set up your website.

The easiest way to collect customer emails is to add a newsletter signup form at checkout.

You can also use an email capture popup via Mailchimp to collect emails of store visitors. Even if they don’t order anything, interested parties still might subscribe to your newsletter.

After you get your email list, you can start sending out newsletters. You can use them to promote offers, announce new or seasonal menu options, or give advice on cooking at home.

You can also send out newsletters about a particular topic. For example, Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants have a “Wine of the Week” newsletter where they highlight different wine every week and offer special menu pairings with it:

Invest in paid advertising

Targeted ads can help you drive local visitors to your restaurant. For example, detailed targeting options on Facebook allow you to pinpoint the audience based on zip code or town name. Here’s how to promote local businesses with Facebook ads.

You can also specify demographic or interests options to showcase your ad to the most appropriate audience. Say, if your restaurant is pet-friendly, you can choose to show your ads to people interested in pet topics.

COVID-19 Impact on Restaurant Industry

It’s impossible to talk about the restaurant industry in 2020 without mentioning the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, it’s hard to find an industry the pandemic hasn’t affected. But restaurant owners were among the first ones to take a hit in being forced to shut down, and are likely to suffer the long-term effects of the pandemic more than any other entrepreneurs.

In the US alone, restaurant sale losses topped $185 billion between March and August 2020. Looking ahead, the majority of restaurant owners aren’t very hopeful for the future of their sales, judging by the survey of 3,500 restaurant operators:

  • 71% of full-service operators don’t expect their sales to return to pre-pandemic levels within the next six months.
  • 43% percent of full-service operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now if business conditions continue at current levels.
  • 1/3 limited-service operators say they likely won’t survive another six months if business conditions don’t improve.

Across the world, restaurant’s daily traffic has dropped precipitously compared to the same period in 2019. The year-over-year decline of seated diners in restaurants worldwide was a staggering 51.3% on November 28, 2020  as you can see on the chart below. The data shows year-over-year seated diners at restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins.

Year-over-year daily change in seated restaurant diners due to the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide from February to November in 2020

How to Adapt to Long-Term Effects of COVID-19

Right now, staying in business isn’t just about taking your restaurant online. It’s about adapting to the long-term effects of the pandemic. Not only will conditions for businesses continue to change, but customer’s habits will transform too.

People will be ordering online more

It’s a safe bet that on-premise dining will lose some love to online ordering, long term. Of course, people won’t stop dining out, but they will rely much more on online ordering, be it for delivery or takeout. For example, ordering food online or picking it up at the restaurant to enjoy at home with the family might become a mainstay alternative to taking the family out for dinner.

How you can adjust: Make an online ordering system an essential part of your business, and don’t give it up once the pandemic is over.

Contactless technology will be the new norm

Minimizing interactions between customers and staff has become a goal in recent months. You might’ve enabled contactless payments in your restaurant, or even installed plexi-glass partitions. This trend will stay put, making restaurants strive for contactless dining experience from beginning to end.

How you can adjust: Add more online payment options to your website to avoid accepting cash upon delivery. Make paying online faster and easier by enabling Apple Pay and Google Pay, and don’t forget to implement these payment methods in your physical location too.

With Ecwid E-commerce, customers can pay with a click using Apple Pay

Replace regular menus in your store with digital ones. For example, customers can scan a QR code at the table to see the menu without interacting with a waiter.

Menus will change

The pandemic’s impact will be felt long after it is over, and might affect individual menus as well. Affordable options like family meals are already in high demand among customers. Shareables might be less popular though dues to customers’ increased concerns about health and hygiene.

It’s also likely that meal kits for cooking at home will rise in popularity as a fresh alternative to takeout.

Menus might also become smaller, because it makes it easier for customers to decide on their order. Plus, this allows restaurateurs to cut expenses and avoid food waste using the same ingredients for several dishes.

How you can adjust: Start rethinking your menu to keep the much-in-demand dishes and minimize expensive and/or less popular ones. Consider adding family dinners, meal packages, or kits for cooking at home.

Seating will change too

Social distancing isn’t a new concept anymore, and it might change customer’s preferred ways to dine going forward. Sitting close to others doesn’t feel comfortable to many people, especially indoors. Plus, the health and safety regulations prescribe to maintain the minimum safety distance between tables. It’s no surprise that communal tables might become a thing of the past for some restaurants.

Maison Saigon encourages social distancing by placing one chair at each table. They also added stuffed pandas to each table to keep their customers company

How you can adjust: You already reorganized your seating. Now let your customers know it’s safe to dine or pick up food at your restaurant. Share new seating plans on your website and social media. Have a live cooking counter? Don’t be shy to boast about it: customers feel safer seeing their food cooked before their eyes.

Big restaurant chains will recover faster

The majority of large restaurant chains can afford to stay in business longer, even during this time of crisis. Fast food chains are also getting more attention from customers rather than full-service restaurants because on-premise dining is either unavailable or limited. That makes it easier for big chains to recover after the crisis, as compared to mom and pop restaurants.

How you can adjust: Give your customers a chance to support your business. Sell gift cards and allow making donations and leaving tips at your online store.

Start Using Restaurant E-commerce Platform

This year proved that an e-commerce website could be a major safety net for independently run businesses — especially restaurants. A site with an online store allows restaurateurs to accept online orders, organize convenient pickup and delivery, sell gift cards and merch, collect tips and donations, and even promote their restaurant to a whole new base of customers. All of this is extremely helpful, given the growing demand for ordering food online.

Now, it’s your turn: do you have a website for your restaurant? How do you use it? Share your experience and advice with fellow restaurant owners in the comments!


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Sell online

With Ecwid Ecommerce, you can easily sell anywhere, to anyone — across the internet and around the world.

About the author

Anastasia Prokofieva is a content writer at Ecwid. She writes about online marketing and promotion to make entrepreneurs’ daily routine easier and more rewarding. She also has a soft spot for cats, chocolate, and making kombucha at home.

Ecommerce that has your back

So simple to use – even my most technophobic clients can manage. Easy to install, quick to set up. Light years ahead of other shop plugins.
I’m so impressed I’ve recommended it to my website clients and am now using it for my own store along with four others for which I webmaster. Beautiful coding, excellent top-notch support, great documentation, fantastic how-to videos. Thank you so much Ecwid, you rock!
I’ve used Ecwid and I love the platform itself. Everything is so simplified it’s insane. I love how you have different options to choose shipping carriers, to be able to put in so many different variants. It’s a pretty open e-commerce gateway.
Easy to use, affordable (and a free option if starting off). Looks professional, many templates to select from. The App is my favorite feature as I can manage my store right from my phone. Highly recommended 👌👍
I like that Ecwid was easy to start and to use. Even for a person like me, without any technical background. Very well written help articles. And the support team is the best for my opinion.
For everything it has to offer, ECWID is incredibly easy to set up. Highly recommend! I did a lot of research and tried about 3 other competitors. Just try ECWID and you'll be online in no time.

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