Nothing has revolutionized the restaurant industry over the last few years quite like digital ordering. From QR codes and contactless ordering, to delivery apps and online menus, digital ordering is changing how people eat and how restaurants serve customers.
In this comprehensive guide to digital ordering, you’ll learn:
- What digital ordering is
- When restaurants and diners started using digital ordering
- Benefits of digital ordering
- Who makes digital ordering restaurant technologies
- How popular digital ordering is
- How to make digital ordering restaurant technologies work for your business
- How digital ordering is changing the restaurant industry
What is digital ordering?
Digital ordering is how the hospitality industry leverages technology to improve the ordering process. It gives customers more flexibility when they order, and allows restaurant staff to serve customers in more meaningful ways. Off-premises digital ordering makes ordering takeout and delivery even easier for customers.
This is an alternative to the traditional way of ordering that involves being handed a physical menu, waiting for the server to return so you can place an order, waiting for the check at the end of the meal, and once again waiting for the server to process your payment or bring back change.
On-premises digital ordering is typically interchangeable with the phrase “contactless ordering,” which gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic because it excluded the server from the ordering process.
Many on-premises digital ordering experiences begin with diners scanning a QR code that takes them to the restaurant’s digital menu. However, this isn’t just a PDF you may be used to seeing on many restaurants’ websites.
Instead, it’s a dynamic menu that can be updated in real time to add or remove items or update prices. They also allow restaurants to toss printed menus altogether.
With contactless ordering, customers can close out their tab and pay their bill directly from their phone at any point in the night, including get loyalty points and tip servers.
You might already be used to seeing digital ordering if you’ve been to a McDonald’s recently. Limited-service restaurants set up kiosks where customers can place and pay for orders.
Collaborative ordering is another on-premises option where both servers and customers add to orders and process payments. Servers can take orders the traditional way, but diners can also scan a QR code to check out a menu, add items to the tab, and pay.
Off-premises digital ordering involves customers placing takeout and delivery orders directly through a restaurant’s website or app, or through a third-party platform like Doordash.
To get digital ordering, restaurants need to partner with a software provider, which gives them the tools they need to create a dynamic restaurant menu, start digital tabs, accept orders, and pay online.
When did restaurants and consumers start using digital ordering?
While the COVID-19 pandemic popularized self-service digital ordering to promote social distancing, digital ordering’s roots go back much further.
The dawn of takeout and delivery
The advent of food delivery and takeout is what eventually led to digital innovations in ordering. The first food delivery ever recorded was in 1889 in Italy. What was the food in question? You guessed it: pizza.
In the 1890s, dabbawalas (essentially delivery men) in India began delivering lunch around Mumbai.
Takeout and delivery increased in popularity even further as people began cooking less and relying on restaurant food more. Ordering food from restaurants became a convenient and affordable option.
As takeout and delivery became more widespread, online ordering platforms and apps arose. In the 1990s, Pizza Hut’s Pizzanet let Californians order pizza online for the first time. In 1995, the first online delivery platform, WorldWideWaiter, launched.
Soon thereafter, competitors like DoorDash, Grubhub, UberEats, and Postmates joined the scene.
While most online orders in the early days were done through a computer, UberEats revolutionized online ordering by making it easily accessible via an app.
Digital ordering in the COVID-19 era
When COVID-19 lockdowns stopped restaurants from offering dine-in options, takeout and delivery became the main revenue stream for many businesses. In fact, the global food delivery market has tripled since 2017 and is now worth $150 billion globally.
As restaurants welcomed customers back, they needed a way to keep distance guidelines and protect their staff — thus, contactless ordering was born. Restaurants could minimize contact between customers and staff while using digital ordering to add value. This system worked because people were already used to using their phones to order food to their homes.
The new normal
Today, digital ordering is part of the new normal. It’s is no longer just about reducing contact. It offers benefits (more on those later) to both restaurants and their customers. Hospitality technology has become an innate part of the dining experience, both on- and off-premises.
Why is digital ordering helpful?
Digital ordering makes operating a restaurant easier and improves customer experience. Here’s how.
How digital ordering benefits restaurants
By offering digital ordering, restaurants can:
- Reduce labor costs and conquer the labor shortage. When you offer self-service ordering, you can serve more guests without needing to hire additional staff.
- Speed up table turnover. Guests spend less time at the table because they don’t have to wait for service, so you can seat more parties and make more sales.
- Focus on a great customer experience. Servers can spend time engaging diners and answering questions instead of doing repetitive tasks like taking orders and running to the POS to process payments.
- Split checks more easily. Servers don’t have to deal with the headache of splitting the bill a million ways with group ordering.
- Spend less time fixing mistakes. When diners can place their own orders, kitchen staff can spend less time and fewer resources remaking misheard orders.
- Make more money with dynamic pricing. Digital ordering allows restaurants to update menus at any time, such as when ingredient costs go up.
- Save money. Digital ordering helps restaurants reduce labor costs and spend less on printed menus.
- Add new restaurant sales streams. Digital ordering allows restaurants to supplement sales by offering takeout and delivery.
- Maximize capacity. If you only accept takeout and delivery orders over the phone, you may lose orders from customers who don’t want to wait on hold. You can accept more orders by offering online off-premises ordering.
- Put a limit on orders, when needed. Sometimes you need to put a cap on how many orders come in to ensure a certain level of quality. A digital ordering solution like Bbot comes with order throttling, which lets you limit how many orders you receive during peak times.
How digital ordering benefits diners
When on-premises and takeout and delivery customers take advantage of digital ordering, they can:
- Improve order accuracy. When customers place their own orders, there’s less of a chance they’ll make a mistake than when a server mishears them.
- Enjoy better service. With a service request button on your digital menu, diners can quickly get the attention of a server, instead of having to wave them down.
- Dine at their own pace. On-premises guests can order when they want, pay when they want, and leave when they want instead of waiting for a server to take their order, bring over the bill, and run a payment.
- Increase their safety. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital ordering made dining out and ordering in safer. It still has the capacity to do so if a resurgence occurs.
- Easily split the bill. Instead of handing a server six credit cards and running the math, group digital ordering makes dining with a large party more convenient.
- Order in just a few taps. Whether ordering delivery through a third-party app or placing an on-premises order via their smartphone, customers can enjoy maximum convenience by ordering, and paying, in just a few taps.
Who makes digital ordering restaurant technologies?
Contactless ordering software is what makes this new way of serving guests possible. These are some of the top platforms in the industry.
That’s us! Our award-winning digital ordering platform gives your restaurant everything it needs for in-store ordering, takeout, and delivery. Customers can browse and order from your branded ordering site via smartphone, and pay when they’re ready. Thanks to our tabs feature, diners can order multiple rounds without flagging down their server.
Not only is it convenient for diners, but it also makes work easier for employees. Printer routing and order throttling help your team seamlessly manage more orders. And, with group ordering, customers can share their cart with the whole table or office to place a single order — decluttering your kitchen display system and speeding up delivery time.
Plus, comprehensive integrations help you execute on your restaurant’s marketing plan.
Bentobox is a full-service restaurant website development solution that includes online ordering. If you’re looking to build your restaurant’s website from the ground up, and include maximum customization, this may be the right service for you. Bentobox’s online ordering feature comes with integrated analytics and tools to help you better understand your customers.
What makes GoTab stand out is its simple payment solutions and easy sign-up process. After verifying their accounts, all diners need to do to place an order is sign in via their phone number. With payment details required to place an order, your restaurant will never again fall victim to dining and dashing.
Lunchbox makes online ordering convenient by integrating with most major POS systems. Add-on digital marketing tools for restaurants help you increase customer loyalty and retention with campaigns based on order information. And, if you’re looking for custom branding, Lunchbox offers design services for a white-labeled solution.
Olo’s digital ordering software can be used on all kinds of platforms, including web, mobile, kiosks, messaging apps, social media, and in the car. This solution connects phone and digital takeout and delivery orders through an easy-to-use digital interface. Additionally, Olo’s digital menu software for restaurants gives customers maximum flexibility by letting them schedule orders in advance.
SevenRooms is a guest experience and retention platform built by hospitality industry veterans. Its mobile order and pay solution lets customers comes with digital restaurant menus and payment capabilities. SevenRooms’ direct online ordering software helps restaurants eliminate third-party fees and increase customer loyalty and retention. Other features include reservations, waitlist management, marketing, a CRM, and more.
Square’s digital ordering system integrates seamlessly with any POS system, so you can start accepting orders in minutes. With direct online ordering from Square, you can save on delivery commission fees. This solution also syncs in-house and online orders so you can see everything in one place.
Toast’s online ordering tool is just one of the solutions this restaurant technology platform offers in addition to the Toast POS system. This software lets restaurants connect with Toast Delivery Services for an alternative to other delivery services.
How popular is digital ordering?
Digital ordering is growing in popularity at a tremendous rate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the popularity of on-premises digital ordering. According to Restaurant Dive, lockdowns led 85% of restaurateurs to “completely reorganize their operations.” This included things like offering contactless ordering and mobile payments, which 40% of operators introduced.
When it came to digital menus, full-service restaurants led the charge. 54% of casual dining, 50% of fine dining, and 48% of family dining venues adopted online menus for on-premises experiences, according to the National Restaurant Association.
More than one in five dine-in customers said that during the pandemic, the availability of these options made them more likely to choose one restaurant over another. In 2020, upwards of 11 million QR codes were scanned in the United States alone, according to ScanTrust.
Create your own QR codes with the click of a button
Contactless ordering and digital payments are more than just a pandemic-era trend, however. A study found that when the pandemic ends, 77% of diners would prefer to use contactless ordering restaurant technologies.
As for restaurants, 61% plan to continue to offer self-service digital ordering solutions when the pandemic ends, and 88% would entirely give up paper menus for digital ones. Even entertainment spaces are getting in on digital ordering — Caveat NYC experienced a 30% increase in check size by introducing digital ordering.
Digital ordering is making waves beyond on-premises dining. Since 2014, online delivery and takeout orders have grown at a rate three times faster than dine-in orders. By 2024, the online food delivery industry is predicted to be worth $32 billion in the United States alone.
Consumers love ordering takeout and delivery online. In fact, 87% of Americans say that delivery apps make their lives easier. When people order food online, one in three spend $50 or more per order, which is some serious cash for restaurants.
There’s no denying that diners and restaurants alike have embraced online ordering in all its forms.
How to make digital ordering restaurant technologies work for your business
Digital ordering doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all solution. While it makes sense for some restaurants to embrace every aspect of digital ordering, from ordering and paying at the table to a delivery service, this combination might not be great for other businesses.
Here are several ideas for making digital ordering work for the areas of your business that need it the most.
Challenge: My customers aren’t crazy about being on their phones during a meal
Solution: Try hybrid ordering
With a hybrid ordering model, both servers and guests have the capability to add menu items to a cart. This means that you can offer traditional service where a server walks diners through the menu, answers questions, and takes orders, and if a guest wants to quickly add a drink or appetizer to an order, they can do so on their phone without waiting for the server to return. With a hybrid solution, you can offer personalized service while giving customers the convenience they crave through restaurant technologies.
Challenge: Older guests who aren’t tech savvy or don’t have smartphones can’t place orders
Solution: Paper menus and personalized service
Even if you make digital self-service ordering your primary way of taking orders at your restaurant, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have workarounds for guests who either aren’t equipped with a mobile device with which they can pull up a digital menu, or aren’t as comfortable using restaurant technology as other guests.
It’s important to make all of your guests feel welcome. Have several paper menus on hand at all times. Train servers to spend extra time with guests who will be placing orders verbally.
Challenge: Servers may have difficulty explaining your digital ordering system
Solution: Set them up for success with proper waiter training
Servers might have a hard time properly explaining how digital ordering works to customers when you first implement it. Train servers to explain how your digital ordering system works. Include role-playing scenarios in your waiter training so they’re ready to answer whatever questions customers have for them.
Challenge: Some diners miss personal service
Solution: Digital ordering frees servers up to engage more with guests
According to the National Restaurant Association, “given the choice of ordering from a server or ordering from their phone or a tablet at the table, most want the server.” The good news is, digital ordering isn’t a replacement for the human touch. Instead, digital ordering frees servers up from repetitive tasks, like inputting orders, so they can spend more time with guests and focus on providing a better customer experience.
Challenge: My restaurant has different customer bases on- and off-premises
Solution: Customize your digital ordering options
You don’t have to use every aspect of digital ordering at your restaurant. If, for example, your dine-in customers feel more comfortable ordering through servers, and your delivery customers are tech savvy, you could implement digital ordering solutions for takeout and delivery, and maintain traditional ordering practices on premises.
How is digital ordering changing the Food & Beverage industry?
It’s undeniable that digital order has revolutionized the f&b industry. Here’s a deep dive into the game-changing impact this restaurant technology has had.
Higher profit margins
By reducing operational costs and increasing restaurant sales, digital ordering has helped the F&B industry improve profit margins. When diners can place their own orders and delivery orders are automatically routed to the POS and kitchen, restaurants need fewer servers and hosts and can thus reduce labor costs. San Antonio’s Pearl Food Hall added $50,000 in monthly revenue without adding staff with the help of digital ordering.
When restaurants have the ability to serve more customers, they make more money. Self-service ordering promotes faster table turnover at restaurants. And with online digital ordering, restaurants won’t lose customers to busy phone tones.
Helped restaurants stay open
Digital ordering played a major role in helping restaurants stay in business during many phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online ordering for takeout and delivery, kiosks, and mobile order and pay solutions reduced contact between people, made customers and staff safer, and kept restaurant sales coming in. These ways of ordering are now part of the new normal, and continue to help restaurants keep the lights on.
Improves guest experience standards
Diners have grown accustomed to the convenience and speed of digital ordering and expect it of restaurants. This restaurant technology, therefore, has elevated guest experience standards.
Restaurants also benefit by having access to guest data, like contact information and order history, which they can use to better market the business and offer personalized experiences. For example, restaurants can use past ordering data to suggest similar dishes a customer might like.
They can also use this data to send promotions to the most receptive guests. If a restaurant is having a week-long oyster celebration, they can send an exclusive invitation to the segment of their email list that has ordered seafood in the past.
Makes restaurants more accessible
With online ordering, customers no longer have to be at a restaurant to order from their menu. Therefore, digital ordering gives customers more access to their favorite restaurants. They can order from the comfort of home, at the office, or on the go.
As a result, guests are happier because they can enjoy their favorite meal wherever and whenever they want, and restaurants benefit because they can reach a wider audience and generate more revenue.
Helps restaurants manage supply-chain shortages
The F&B industry is feeling the ongoing effects of the pandemic-induced supply-chain shortage. Digital ordering helps restaurants manage the ups and downs of this disruption. With a dynamic digital menu for restaurants, you can update your menu at any time to reflect ingredient availability, and update prices to ensure profits.
Wrapping up: The complete guide to digital ordering
Digital ordering is making waves in every aspect of the dining experience. From takeout and delivery to on-premises dining, digital ordering can improve the guest experience and streamline operations.
Customers have learned to expect the convenience and speed of digital ordering. Don’t get left behind.
Interested in digital ordering? Fill out the form below to see how it can work for your venue.